11,000 baby caps and counting

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- As a former nurse, Edith Oliver knows all too well the importance of maintaining body heat.

This was one of the factors that led her to begin making baby caps for Southwest Georgia's newborns about 10 years ago. Since then, roughly 11,000 babies have gone home with one of her hats.

"Everybody loses a certain percentage of body heat through the head, so I started making the baby caps," she said. "Plus, I've got to keep moving."

It started, essentially, with one phone call.

"I didn't know if anybody made hats for the babies. There was one lady, but they (Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital) said she could use some help," Oliver said.

Oliver, a native of Massachusetts, came to Albany in 1974 while her husband -- whom she graduated from high school with -- was still serving in the U.S. Navy. Her husband passed away of a heart attack two years later.

While she did lose her spouse early, living the solo life is something that doesn't bother her much now.

"My son said, 'Mother, what are we going to do'?" Oliver recalled of the time immediately after her husband's death. "I told him, 'You go to Mercer (University) and I'll stay here in Albany.'

"The weather suits me because I don't like cold weather."

Oliver, 87, despite her arthritis, averages about one cap a night. About every six weeks weeks or so, she will have two or three bags full of caps -- roughly 20 in each bag -- ready for employees from Phoebe to come pick up from her home.

"If I have too many, someone stops by and takes me to the hospital and I (help) drop them off," she said.

Oliver entered into training to become a nurse in 1943, after which she worked in nurseries.

"There were no interns, no orderlies," Oliver said. "We had to do it all ourselves.

"When I worked in the nursery, I always kept the babies warm."

Next to Oliver's chair in her den is a basket containing all the materials she needs to make the caps. The tools can also be taken in a bag with her so she can make the hats while away from home.

The hats come in a variety of colors and sizes.

"I used to make them just for preemies, but now I make them for the nursery and the preemies," Oliver said. "I've always liked to do (knitting and crocheting), but I had never done baby caps."

Her efforts have not gone unrecognized. In 2009, Oliver shared Phoebe's Lillian B. Allison Volunteer of the Year Award with a volunteer who works with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program Ramp Builders.

At the time, the hospital had a total of 600 volunteers working 54,000 hours.

"I was shocked when (I won the award) because there are so many of us now," Oliver said. "I don't do legwork at the hospital like I used to. I just make hats."

The motivation for continuing to make the hats, Oliver said, comes partly from the fact that the nursery and neonatal intensive care units at Phoebe are not in danger of going out of business anytime soon.

"There is a great need," Oliver said. "I wish more people would volunteer their time.

"The babies will sleep better if they are warm."

Even though she makes them in a variety of sizes, there are occasions when her caps have to be specially made.

"I will sometimes get a call because a baby is too tiny," Oliver said. "I'll go into the hospital and take a look at the baby and then go home and make a hat for (the infant)."

When asked if she would encourage others in the community to help her, she replied, "By all means, because they (the babies) could use them. People are not going to stop having babies."