Marilynn Burger carefully unwraps the pink bundle on her couch, folding the blanket outward and placing the pink teddy bear off to the side. Then she unfolds the stack of baby clothes piece by piece, holding them up to the light.
"Aren't they darling?" she asks.
The bundle is one of three that Burger delivers to the Public Health department every month to be donated to Public Health and the Nurse-Family Partnership program. She makes one bundle for a boy, one for a girl and one unisex bundle. She estimates she's been doing this for at least 20 years.
"I like to knit. That's kind of how it started," Burger said.
Burger doesn't work directly with any organization or fundraiser to put together her bundles. Most of the items come from her, thanks to her thrift store shopping skills, with occasional donations of knitted or crocheted blankets from friends and children's books from the Summit County Rotary club.
Each bundle contains a large blanket, within which is wrapped up to 20 outfits, including onesies, undershirts, sweaters, two-piece outfits, pajamas, a jacket and a snow suit, plus more blankets, crib sheets, wipes, diapers, stuffed animals and books in either English or Spanish. Most of the clothing Burger chooses will fit a baby from newborn stage up to 6 months of age.
"Because that's when, you know, you're pretty overwhelmed and you don't have stuff," she said. "The other thing is, zero to 6 months, they don't wear this stuff very long. They grow out of it so fast that, unless you save it and have four more babies, things are in such good shape."
Burger is an expert thrift store shopper and can easily list a number of thrift stores in Denver, their location and what days they have their special deals. With children and grandchildren to visit in Denver, Burger drives to the city often, though she's always conscious about what days she'll be there.
"Even my dentist and the receptionist know. If I'm making an appointment, she says, 'I know, you want to come in on Tuesday,' " Burger said with a laugh.
Burger is always on the hunt for a bargain. She has a keen eye for used clothes and makes sure to pick the choicest items for her bundles.
"Even though these are almost 100 percent used clothes, trust me, I raised three boys and I know if there's a stain on something, what will come out and what won't, so I only buy the best," she said.
Once home, she makes sure to check that there are no threadbare spots and that the snaps all work and are accounted for. In earlier years, she would replace drawstrings with much safer elastic waistbands, though now says the clothing has changed and she doesn't need to do it so much. She also removes the tags and throws the clothes in the wash.
"I figure that's a good test, if it can get washed," she said, explaining that only rarely does a piece of clothing not make it through the washing machine. "I figure, if it can't handle washing then I shouldn't be giving it to somebody."
Making sure of the quality is an important part of Burger's process.
"I have my standards. They have to be nice and they have to be cheap," she said. Because of the quick growth of young babies, most used baby clothes are hardly worn before they're too small.
"I mean, this stuff's like brand new," she said, holding up a pink jumper. "What are you going to do? Just throw it out? No. Everything that I get is just in tip-top shape. I just wouldn't feel good about giving it away if it wasn't."
The Nurse-Family Partnership program is designed to help first-time, low-income mothers deal with their pregnancy and learn about becoming a parent. The program pairs each mother with a nurse, who visits her at home several times a month until the baby is 2 years old. Summit County's program started in 2001, following guidelines from the national parent organization by providing a curriculum for new mothers to follow.
Previously, Burger worked in the Denver area Public Health department, including the Woman, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Her years in the hospitals dealing with young parents and infants have garnered a large amount of expertise when it comes to what families with newborns need.
"You just sometimes don't realize that not everybody starts at point A," she said. "That's why I think that program (Nurse-Family Partnership) is so wonderful."
It was in Denver that she started helping give away free blankets with the Church World Services organization. When she moved to Summit County in 1988, that idea stuck with her and eventually morphed into the baby bundles that she creates today.
"You know, my thought was that, at least in my generation, you always got hand-me-downs, from your cousins, from your sisters, when you had a baby. Well, I think a lot of times up here people don't have that support system; they're here by themselves," she said.
Another benefit to the bundles is that they can be used to get expecting parents more prepared for what's coming.
"Sometimes there's a disconnect. You know it's coming and you know it's there, but it's almost still unreal," Burger said. The bundle is then given to the new parents "when it can be an educational tool, not just a gift."
Over all, Burger said she enjoys making the bundles, from hunting the aisles of the thrift store to the moment she drops them off at the Public Health department.
"Oh yeah, I really do," she said.