Local volunteers turn wedding dresses into infant gowns for parents who lose a child

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – Losing a child is a devastating experience for any family, especially when it happens soon after delivery or before. A local organization works to make that process less painful by offering a special gift to the parents.

Celestee and Andrew Roufs lost their baby girl more than a year ago but thanks to a special gift, they now are donating their time to helping other families with similar experiences. The couple now volunteers with Eternal Angels, a non-profit organization that makes bereavement outfits or “Angel Gowns” for local families after the loss of an infant.

“Our first time here was the one year anniversary of our daughter’s birth and we were one of the couples that received one of the items that’s made here so it was really nice to be able to spend the day in a way that was in remembrance of her but also giving back to this wonderful group that makes them for people like us,” says Celestee Roufs.

The Roufs say volunteering is their way of remembering their daughter while giving back to the group that brought them a piece of beauty on a difficult day. "For us, it was something we didn't have to worry about because someone else had taken care of it for us. We really appreciated it," said Andrew Roufs.

Becky Gunderson founded Eternal Angels in 2015. The organization has since grown, working with local hospitals to help families after infant loss. “It can be a family that a baby is born full-term and is a still born baby or it can be Moms that go to the clinic for a 28 week check-up and they find out the pregnancy isn’t viable and their in miscarriage,” says Gunderson.

The items are hand-sew by local volunteers from wedding dresses donated by community members. "The wedding dress is a symbol of never ending love that a bride has on her wedding day or feels on her wedding day and we're basically wrapping their baby, that family's baby in that never ending love," says Gunderson.

Volunteers of Eternal Angels say while deconstructing wedding gowns, bead by bead is a long process with much work involved, being able to help a family during a terrible situation is rewarding. “It’s just so well worth it when you see those little beautiful gowns and bags and things that they make and how touching it is for a family to receive one of those,” says Kathie Loewenhagen.

Eternal Angels makes a variety of custom bereavement outfits free of charge to those who receive them. “We make their gowns, wraps, and pouches that are gender specific, so boy and girl when the gender is known,” says Gunderson.

Becky says this is important because after infant loss, it can be difficult to find a suitable outfit for burial that fits. “If you lose your baby early and they’re 2.5 pounds, you can’t really go buy anything,” says Gunderson. She says some families bury their infants in the outfits and some save it and put it in a keepsake box.

The organization receives an overwhelming amount of wedding gown donations each year. “We’ve gone to limiting our donation drives to twice a year because we get 28 to 30 wedding dresses during a donation drive and so that’s 300-600 infant outfits that come from that,” said Gunderson.

A typical wedding dress can make between 8 and 14 angel gowns. Eternal Angels currently sends them to 6 area hospitals that gift the outfits to families after a loss. Gunderson soon hopes to send them to more medical centers. “We don’t interact with the recipients. We reply on the medical centers to identify and hand them out and give them to families that need them or want them,” says Gunderson.

Gunderson says with the supply and volunteer base Eternal Angels has built, they are able to help families beyond the Chippewa Valley and she hopes be able to do that in the future.

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