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A six-figure grant, a new project, a simple idea: Welcome babies to the neighborhood

ST. PETERSBURG — Allison Pinto's front yard was full of kids and not one was hers.

There were eight in all: four girls and four boys, two in pre-K, five in elementary school and one heading into seventh grade. It was a warm July evening, but they weren't there to play. They had a full night ahead of them.

Together, these kids make up the Neighborbaby Fan Club. Every time a baby on their block of 10th Street S is born, they make a welcome basket for the family filled with wipes, diapers, toys and presents for the parents.

Jayden Jackson, 12, formed the club with his friends Calvin and Wesley before they moved away. Now, he's in charge.

"Jayden's a leader," 8-year-old Giovani Delvalle said.

"Founder," Jayden corrected him.

Pinto, a child psychologist at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Family Student Center, is their ride to Dollar Tree and, now, the one in charge of their grant money.

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg awarded $327,511 to the center and the Lake Maggiore Shores neighborhood to put a focus on area children's mental health. The money comes from the sale of the former nonprofit Bayfront Medical Center, which this year is funding 19 projects in Pinellas County totaling $4 million.

The kids' welcome baskets are a small part of what neighbors hope will blossom into a broader initiative spanning some 40 blocks, home to 170 children under 5 years old.

After a successful brainstorming session, Jayden, Giovani, 10-year-old Isaiah Delvalle and 7-year-old Mariah Delvalle piled into Pinto's green Fiat and set off for the dollar store a few blocks away. The rest of the kids stayed behind, waiting impatiently.

"It's a girl, so get all girl things," Jayden said.

"Oh, come on!" Giovani said.

They walked in and headed straight for the baby aisle.

"We've been here before," Isaiah said, as he dug a glove out of his pocket. Last time, his basket got too heavy and made his right hand sore.

They had three baby baskets to build between the four of them. Mariah wanted to buy girl supplies. Isaiah wanted to make one for a boy. Jayden and Giovani teamed up to make the last one.

Pinto stood back and watched.

"They figure it out," she said, as she watched Mariah decide against a Sesame Street teething ring. "There's a motivation to do it instead of being told to do it."

The trip took almost an hour.

Giovani picked out a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ball, only to have Jayden replace it with a plush doll with pigtails and bows. ("Remember, it's a girl," he said.)

Mariah had to talk Isaiah out of buying a small toy car. ("Babies can't have small toys," she told him. "What if they try to swallow it?") And this time, they thought ahead and brought extra money to buy themselves a little something, too.

It all totaled out to $47.08, not including Mariah's hot fries, Giovani's new water bottle, or Isaiah and Jayden's Popsicle molds.

The rest of the club saw them coming back down the street and came running. Within seconds, the bags were unpacked, ribbon was flying and the baskets started to take shape.

Their first stop was their neighbor Mr. Earl, who had two new granddaughters. They lugged the first two baskets up to the door, knocked and waited. And waited.

They knocked again. They rang the doorbell.

Mr. Earl wasn't home.

But they weren't discouraged. On they marched, to the end of the block where there was one more baby waiting. They scampered up the steps to the second-floor apartment and crowded the small porch. When the door opened, eight grinning faces congratulated the new mom before they handed her the overflowing basket and ran back down.

To the kids, they're just delivering baskets. But to Lake Maggiore Shores neighbors like Pinto, they're deepening the sense of community and making crucial connections.

It had gotten dark, and it was time to go home. They made plans to knock on Mr. Earl's door again the next day.

Contact Hannah Jeffrey at hjeffrey@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450. Follow @hannahjeffrey34.

A six-figure grant, a new project, a simple idea: Welcome babies to the neighborhood 07/29/16 [Last modified: Sunday, July 31, 2016 10:16pm]
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