IRIS

With a dramatic decrease in volunteers and donations, Infants Remembered in Silence is struggling to meet increased need. However, a group of four Faribault Bethlehem Academy students is now providing crucial assistance, visiting the IRIS House on a regular basis. From left to right: Hannah Kimbers, Zack Bartness, Anna Selly and Malia Hunt. (Andrew Deziel/southernminn.com)

Forced to cancel a pair of crucial spring fundraisers due to continued COVID-19 restrictions and concerns, Infants Remembered in Silence is relying on a determined group of core volunteers and donors to meet levels of demand for its assistance that are greater than ever.

For more than 30 years, the Faribault-based nonprofit has provided a crucial support network for local women and families grieving after losing a child during or shortly after pregnancy.

One bright spot as of late has been a group of four students from Faribault’s Bethlehem Academy: Hannah Kimbers, Zack Bartness, Anna Selly and Malia Hunt. While they’ve been familiar with IRIS for some time, the students are now visiting the IRIS House two to three times a week as part of a service project for one of their classes.

Bartness said that other groups from his school have been assigned to volunteer at Rescue 55021, Divine Mercy Catholic School, and other community nonprofits. Bartness has helped out with IRIS from time to time over the years, and said he’s still amazed by the organization’s ability to provide support for so many families despite its small size.

Selly said that she’s grateful to be able to help IRIS during its time of need. Selly has known IRIS Director Diana Kelley for years as a family friend, but said that now more than ever it’s crucial for people to step up and support local organizations like IRIS.

“In smaller communities it’s important that everyone gets involved with nonprofits,” she said. “With COVID, not as many people are getting out.”

Once a physician refers a family to the service, IRIS’s team of volunteer advocates quickly springs into action. On average, IRIS advocates spend eight to 12 hours working with a family in a hospital setting, and/or four to six hours in a funeral home setting.

Advocates cater to the wishes of grieving families, often helping parents to preserve the memory of their lost child and plan for a funeral. IRIS also provides bereavement support packets to make sure that families understand what resources are available. In a typical year, a team of roughly 300 volunteers will help to assemble and distribute around 500 care packages across Dodge, Goodhue, Le Sueur, Rice, Steele and Waseca counties. The organization’s in-person support groups traditionally provide further assistance.

While IRIS still has just two paid staff members, its robust team of volunteers has given it a strong and growing local presence. As the March of Dimes reports that as many as half of all pregnancies may end in miscarriage, the need for support is substantial.

With the advent of the internet, IRIS’s presence has become increasingly national and even global. Kelley proudly notes that the IRIS website has been visited more than 500,000 times by viewers in 217 countries, and translated into 220 languages.

Last year, the number of bereavement support packets distributed by IRIS roughly doubled — much in line with a study published in The Lancet Global Health showing a large increase in miscarriages.

Meanwhile, the organization’s number of active volunteers has been reduced to about 100. Kelley said that many of IRIS’s volunteers have traditionally been older, and now many are too scared to leave their houses due to COVID.

Donations have been down as well, and the cancellation of both the 24th annual IRIS Breakfast and Bingo Bash and the IRIS Little Black Dress event won’t help. In a typical year, Kelley noted that the organization nets $10,000 to $12,000 from each event.

Kelley, who founded the organization two years after losing a son to stillbirth, has been absolutely determined to plow on despite the challenges. While it’s taken long hours and determined commitment, the organization has managed to meet the need so far.

Support groups have been canceled, as attempts at Zoom meetings failed to deliver the intimacy craved by many grieving parents. However, volunteers have continued to provide other services, visiting hospitals and funeral homes while taking care to minimize the risk of contracting COVID.

“It’s pretty amazing we’ve been able to make everything work,” Kelley said.

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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