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Donated wedding dresses help parents grieve after losing infant

Kim Violette knows the pain of losing a child.

Twenty-four years ago, she had a miscarriage, and despite now having four beautiful daughters, it's something Violette will carry with her forever.

"I was never able to grieve properly," Violette told CBS News. "The doctors said, 'It was just a miscarriage.' My response was, 'It's just my baby.'"

For years, Violette couldn't even bring herself to talk about it. But now she's helping other parents who are going through similar circumstances find a way to cope.

The Stephen City, Virginia, woman was inspired to create Forever Angels of Virginia, a program for grieving parents, after spotting a Facebook post about a wedding dress being turned into a burial gown for a stillborn baby.

Violette ran with the idea, rounding up volunteers, including one of her daughters, who was the first to donate her own five-year-old wedding dress. A small group of volunteers then helped create dozens of baby gowns from the material, donating them free of charge to parents who lost a baby due to miscarriage, stillbirth or death.

"This is my way I can help mommas and families spend special times with their babies in their last moments," Violette said. "It hits home for me."

A donated infant baby gown from Forever Angels of Virginia Forever Angels of Virginia

Forever Angels of Virginia officially became a non-profit organization in September 2015. Since then, the non-profit has received 525 wedding gowns, creating more than 1,500 infant gowns. Seamstresses can create up to three-dozen infant gowns from one wedding dress, depending on the style and size.

The organization has recently seen a spike in both donations and volunteers.

"We started with 15 volunteers altogether, but then we are now probably close to 40," Violette said. "There's a lot of need [for this service] in our country."

There are about 23,000 infant deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The group has shipped dresses all over the country, usually at the request of a grieving parent's family member. But Violette hopes to expand into hospitals.

Employees at MedStar Harbor Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, pose with donated "Forever Angel" gowns. Forever Angels in Virginia

"My goal is to reach as many hospitals as possible and give them each several dozen to have ready," Violette said. "They wrap them in a blanket or towel, but they should be dressed properly. It's the only thing they ever wear on their body -- in their life."

Violette wants to give every mom and dad a special moment with their infant.

"Whether it's for an hour, a couple days," Violette said. "If we enrich those moments between a mother, a father, a family and a baby then it's all worth it. As a parent that's the greatest loss to me is to lose a baby."

With the recent uptick in donations, Forever Angels of Virginia isn't currently taking any wedding gowns. But thanks to the dozens who have volunteered to help, Violette hopes they'll be ready to start accepting more dresses in the near future.

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