We received a Happenings submission about a charity we hadn’t heard of: Strick’s Gift. We were immediately enthralled, as this non-profit has given over 18,000 baby items to newborns in need during the past 5 years here in Nashville. We had to know more about the founders, Geoff and Lena Levendoski, and how they started this charity and how we—and you—could help out. We knew this FACES would be a special one, and we think you’ll agree. Welcome Lena Levendoski, FACES of Nashville.

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Tell us how Strick’s Gift came about?

The idea for Strick’s Gift came to Geoff and me on the way back from my Grandmother’s lake house in Alabama the summer of 2008. We were on the road in Monteagle and decided it was time to do something in memory of our son, and then all of a sudden the idea came to us. By the time we were at the bottom of the mountain, the idea was complete. It was the first gift in this process … and trust me, we have gained more from it than we have given. Geoff and I lost our first son two weeks before his due date in July 2007. His name was Strick, named after my Grandfather. The idea behind Strick’s Gift is that all children who are born should be celebrated, because it is absolutely a miracle that these beautiful children arrive safely. Strick’s Gift is just that, it’s a gift of clothing and blankets to celebrate and welcome this new child. The card attached to the bags the child receives reads “Welcome to the World, From one Angel to Another.”

How did you and your husband become aware of the need for baby essentials for babies in need at area hospitals?

We did not know there was a need until we approached the hospitals with this idea. There is a staggering need for clothing for newborns. Sometimes families arrive to the hospitals with nothing and have no means to buy the things that their child requires. Approximately 8,000 babies in need are born in Nashville each year.

Give us the breakdown of what is commonly found in a Strick’s Gift bag.

Let me start by letting you know that all of what is found in a Strick’s Gift bag has been donated by Nashville families. This city is truly a giving community and because of that, we can reach out to these newborns.

Typically, each bag has about 30 to 40 pieces of size 0 to 12 clothing … onesies, pajamas, little sweaters, sleep sacks, sweet outfits etc., and at least one blanket. When we put a bag together, we take into consideration the seasons and the sizes. It is a good base for a year’s worth of clothing. I have met one person who received a bag from us and it was an extraordinary moment. The brand new father saw me and thanked me for the bag of clothing his wife had just received. He said that she cried at every piece of clothing that she pulled out of the bag and he said, “Thank you so much, it’s everything we need.” I looked at him and said it’s only a start and we laughed at how his precious new son Mitchell will probably go through 5 outfits a day.

How can our readers help out? And, is this something schools can participate in?

I’m glad you asked! Your readers can help by donating size 0 to 12 month gently-used or new infant clothing, or they can make a monetary contribution—and it’s as simple as emailing me to coordinate ([email protected]). Westminster Presbyterian Church and the very fabulous local children’s store in Edgehill, Tweed Baby Outfitters, are drop-off locations. Unsold infant clothing at consignment sales are a great resource for us, and if there are any out there your readers have a connection to, please let us know. Also, if anyone is interested in volunteering they can email me, as I periodically send out volunteer opportunities.

Schools are a wonderful resource because children can wrap their minds around helping younger children. Kids of all ages have volunteered putting bags together with me, and this experience brings them immense joy and sense of accomplishment. Any schools could have clothing drives or fundraisers; they could even start a knitting club for baby blankets! I would love to speak with a group of students about what we do and the endless opportunities to give to others.

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Is Strick’s Gifts exclusively in Nashville? If so, can one open this charity in another city?

Strick’s Gift is currently only in Nashville however, Baby Bundles in Charlotte, North Carolina was established based upon Strick’s Gift. A woman who I came to know after she lost her first child loved what we were doing here and knew how much the work had helped Geoff and me begin to heal. She and two other friends with similar experiences started Baby Bundles; they are doing great! Taking something as simple as baby clothes to children is easy to achieve with a plan. I would love to see this in more communities and would welcome the chance to share with someone exactly how to do it.

Can you share some advice that you’ve received that you lean on?

Experiences in life (the good ones and the bad ones) are like chapters in a great novel. The experiences are part of you, but they are not who you are today—keep turning the pages and see what happens next.

Are you and your husband from Nashville? If not, how did you find your way here?

I am from Tuscaloosa and Geoff grew up here. After college, I lived in Birmingham, then Charlotte but never felt that I was at home until a friend suggested moving to Nashville. So almost 15 years ago, not knowing a soul, I got an apartment in Hillsboro Village and started a part time job at The Cotton Mill. I realized I was home immediately.

If there were one thing about Nashville you could change, what would that be?

Besides ocean views, I wish more drivers would use blinkers.  

What is your favorite thing about living in Nashville?

There is an energy here that is vibrant, positive and hopeful.

Can you tell us about a meal you recently had at a local Nashville restaurant that really wowed you?

Rolf And Daughters’ Farro Gemelli with Hen-of-the-woods mushrooms.

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What do find that is worth every penny and you will happily splurge on?

Omorovicza Moisturizer … and pretty much anything else at Private Edition.

Do you  have any fears?

Yes, and they seem to be getting worse with age. It’s mostly that I am going to catch a virus or something, or that my children will and then pass it along to me. You should have seen me on the subway in Manhattan when my 3 year old daughter was licking a handrail; I was sure we were all doomed. (We weren’t).

Can you tell us any New Year’s resolutions that you have for 2014?

To slow down, read and pray more.

What do you do to decompress after an especially hard day?

I’d like to say I meditate and do Yoga, but right now with a 3 and a 5 year old, it’s mostly going to bed early.

Anything you are reading that you’d like to recommend?

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. It was the last book I read that I really loved.  

Where is your dream vacation spot?

Saint-Tropez, France

Name three lighthearted items that you can’t live without.

  • My neighbor’s Yogi tea recipe
  • Wood burning fires
  • A good pair of jeans

 

Thank you, Lena! Read more about Strick’s Gift: www.stricksgift.org

Special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for her photos today, and each week. To see more of Ashley’s work: ashleyhylbert.com