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Garden of Innocence ceremony to dedicate ground where abandoned babies will be buried

August 1, 2018

Land at a local cemetery will be dedicated in a public ceremony this month, in preparation for its future as a resting place for abandoned children who have died or been stillborn.

It all started a few months ago, when Carol Hunt began worrying about what happens to the remains of abandoned babies who die. While that was in her mind, she ran across David Hopkins, funeral director for Umpqua Valley Funeral Directors, at a local restaurant. The two had volunteered together in the past.

Hunt told Hopkins she wanted to be sure the babies were being properly buried, and Hopkins recalled hearing about a California charity called Garden of Innocence.

The organization arranges for abandoned babies to be buried, taking on the task with volunteers who do everything from picking up the remains wherever they’re found — hospitals, morgues, funeral homes — to carefully swaddling a package of the deceased’s ashes in a handmade baby blanket, and placing this precious package, with a small, soft toy, into an urn. Then volunteers hold a burial ceremony at a local cemetery.

Hunt and Hopkins contacted Garden of Innocence, which has about 20 “gardens” in California. The founder, Elissa Davey, who coincidentally lived in Roseburg during part of her childhood, came to visit along with another organizer. Out of that visit, a new, local chapter of Garden of Innocence was born.

Soon, local volunteers will begin swaddling the remains and seeing to the burial of local abandoned babies.

Hopkins, a member of the Roseburg chapter of the International Order of Odd Fellows, helped arrange for space to be set aside for child burials at the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

A dedication of the land where these children will be buried will be held at 10 a.m. on Aug. 18 at the cemetery, which is located at the intersection of Southeast Henry Street and Southeast Douglas Avenue a few blocks east of the Douglas County Courthouse in Roseburg. The ceremony is open to the public. It will include a soloist and a poetry reading, and rose petals will be strewn on the ground.

No babies will be buried at the ceremony. Later, when the babies are buried at the cemetery, a similar ceremony will be performed. Before they’re buried, the carefully swaddled remains in their urns will be passed around a circle of volunteers.

“The baby is passed around the entire ring, so everybody can love that baby before it’s buried,” Hunt said.

“They call it the circle of love,” Hopkins added.

Hopkins said he can’t help thinking that what happened to these babies could have happened to the little girl he adopted two years ago when she was 18 months old.

“She could have easily become an abandoned, dead baby. Because her mother didn’t care for her, left her for hours and hours on end. Her second foster family didn’t care for her anymore. She came to us with her shoes on the wrong feet and a bag of clothes as all she had in the world,” he said.

He said burying the abandoned babies will provide closure for the community.

Hunt said the Garden of Innocence is looking for volunteers to make blankets or urns or caskets or to purchase toys or make financial contributions. They also need board members. The organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

To volunteer or for more information, contact Hopkins at 541-637-8153.

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