Healthy Start helps three out four families with babies born in Monroe County each year. CONTRIBUTED

Parenting is tough enough in the best of times. 

The past nine months have been among the worst of times for everyone, including pregnant women, new parents and Keys families in general, but help is available and just a phone call away.

“If you’re pregnant, or have a little one at home, just call us,” said Arianna Nesbitt, CEO of Florida Keys Healthy Start Coalition, the only nonprofit organization in the Keys that exists to help moms and babies. “Let’s talk about what’s going on in your life; what you need and what you don’t even know you need. We can help with formula, diaper deliveries, car seats, parenting classes, prenatal vitamins. So many people don’t even know the ways we can help. We provide some sort of assistance for three out of four babies born in Monroe County.”

Nesbitt said COVID has increased the need for services and has driven more people to seek help since March. The need for diapers alone has quadrupled since March, Nesbitt said, adding that a Miami organization fills this need for Keys families and diapers are delivered every Friday to those who need them.

“We’re hearing from a lot of people who have never needed help before,” she said. “They’ve always been the givers, the supporters. They’re not in the system. They don’t know what questions to ask,” she said.

Stressed-out moms have difficult pregnancies, Nesbitt said. “And while I can’t pay someone’s rent, I can handle their formula or diapers, which frees up money for rent and utilities. 

Just call us. You don’t have to be in crisis to get help. We’re here to help prevent those crises.”

She added that the pandemic has put additional pressure on new parents.

“Maybe grandma can’t travel now to help; maybe dad lost his job; some families have had to give up their vehicles, and others can’t afford wipes and diapers, but they need those things to enroll their child in day care,” Nesbitt said. “There’s so many things that have happened and have put people in a position they never expected.”

An estimated 2,500 Keys families each year receive help from the coalition, which also offers parenting classes, breastfeeding classes, transportation to prenatal appointments and Tot Time and Wiggles & Giggles support groups.

“Healthy Start services are provided free of charge and include, but are not limited to: stress-management; home-visiting, parenting skills, nutritional information, baby-spacing information, breastfeeding and childbirth education, and assistance with accessing financial assistance for pregnancy costs and infant care costs,” the coalition’s website states.

Several clients have expressed their gratitude for the support they’ve received since the start of the pandemic, while others described their struggle when applying for help. (Nesbitt emphasized that applications do not require income or IRS information or immigration details.)

“The coalition has been great to us,” one client wrote. “My husband lost his job due to COVID-19 and they have been helping us with our baby diapers. Thanks so much for everything you guys do.”

“Me not having a job and the girls’ dad not working the same number of hours, it’s been very hard to get by. We haven’t been able to pay rent since April. Please help me and my girls. We’re so grateful for people like you, willing to help our community. Thank you!”

Another mom told Nesbitt, “Times are tough and this will definitely help us so much. My kids and I would really appreciate it. Thank you!”

“Due to COVID, I’ve been out of work since March 22 and have yet to receive benefits from unemployment. Thank you for helping take the stress off my shoulders in these trying times,” she said.

“Healthy Start has been there for us when we needed baby clothes and diapers. They’ve always offered advice and services with no judgment. I couldn’t thank them enough,” a new mom said.

How to help

“The best thing about my job and this coalition is that we live here in the Florida Keys community,” Nesbitt said. “If people know there’s a need; they’ll find a way to fill it.”

While cash donations always allow the organization to obtain what’s needed when it’s needed, she added that the coalition also accepts gently used baby clothes; baby beds, high chairs, baby baths, floor play mats, bouncers and other items. 

To give or receive such items, email [email protected].

The coalition serves all moms, babies and kids up to age 5 Keyswide. Visit keyshealthystart.org.In Key West, call 305-293-8424. In the Upper Keys, call 305-433-1556. The coalition is in the process of establishing an office and services in the Middle Keys.

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