Thanks to the love of strangers, eight Fresno County babies who died now have names: Jill Elise, Stella, Aurora, Isaac, Jeremiah, Christopher, Samuel and Nehemiah.
They were named by volunteers who tend to Fresno’s Garden of Innocence, a special resting place for abandoned infants at Mountain View Cemetery.
After a public funeral service at 10 a.m. Saturday, there will be 59 babies buried there. The majority were stillborn and left at a hospital. Others were orphans or had parents who couldn’t afford a burial.
Before the Garden of Innocence, the babies were buried in mass graves in “potter’s field,” dirt plots tended by the county.
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These babies were people, and they deserve to be laid to rest in a dignified manner.
Jennifer Donnelly, Garden of Innocence volunteer
County Supervisor Henry R. Perea was instrumental in bringing a garden to Fresno in 2012, joining others statewide and established with the help of nonprofit Garden of Innocence National.
Perea has attended every Fresno service, held twice a year, and keeps an empty wooden box made to hold cremated remains on his desk as a reminder of the garden’s importance and the hardships that face many children and mothers.
He hopes many community members attend Saturday’s service, which will include a law enforcement honor guard, live music, the release of doves and the sprinkling of rose petals.
“We have an opportunity to give the baby a name and send it off with love,” Perea says. “At the end of the day, that baby has a family.”
Everyone in attendance forms a circle, and the small wooden boxes holding cremated remains are passed around so that “each baby is touched with loving hands,” says Garden of Innocence volunteer Jennifer Donnelly. A poem is read for each child.
It really does bring the community together.
Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea
The babies are buried with stuffed animals and wrapped in hand-knit blankets.
“It would be a service for a king,” Donnelly says. “We just pull out all the stops.”
She started volunteering with the garden after attending the first service in 2012, when 24 babies were buried.
“It was overwhelming,” Donnelly says. “I never imagined that there were that many babies that were abandoned or left behind.”
Kelly Matlock, a deputy coroner and vice president for Fresno’s Garden of Innocence, keeps the remains of the cremated babies on a special shelf at the coroner’s office until they are ready to be buried in the garden.
“It’s kind of like my mission for these babies,” she says, “to help them to their final resting place.”
Support the Garden of Innocence
- Attend a funeral service: 10 a.m. Saturday at the Garden of Innocence in Mountain View Cemetery, 1411 W. Belmont Ave., Fresno.
- Help pay for the special burials: Donations can be made online at gardenofinnocence.org, or checks can be made out to Garden of Innocence and mailed to P.O. Box 722, Carlsbad, CA 92018. If donating for the local garden, specify that the money is for Fresno.