Program History

This program allows artists and crafters to use their creativity to benefit others by creating hand-crafted Memory Boxes to be given by hospital bereavement counselors and nurses to the families of newborn infants who die in the hospital or are stillborn. The program's sole purpose is to connect artists with hospitals in need of boxes. At no time do the artists send us a box! We simply act as the administrative "go between". We contact and follow up with hospitals to be sure that they have an active bereavement program, and that someone at the hospital will take responsibility for the boxes.

We do not wish to be given "credit" for the boxes. The only reason we exist is to make sure qualified hospitals are connected with individuals and groups that wish to create boxes for them, and to make sure that the boxes go to bereavement counselors that will take responsibility that the boxes get to the families they are created for. We track the number of boxes going to each hospital each month so that no one hospital is bombarded with boxes while others do not have any. Each time a new box is ready, the coordinator is contacted, and the member generally does not continue to send to the same hospital.
How it all started . . .

In early 1997, Rosemary Armesto sent a message to the ToleNet email mailing list (now defunct) that changed many lives. Rosemary told us of a one-time project to paint memory boxes for families that lost infant children. In April of 1998, another list member (who asked not to be credited) came to artist Tera Leigh, at that time ToleNet's Owner, and asked if ToleNet would help publicize this program on an International basis. A list member's sister-in-law had lost a child just a week before term. She remembered Rosemary's message and painted a memory box for her sister-in-law. She related a story much like Rosemary wrote of. She was profoundly affected by the reaction of her sister-in-law and the hospital staff.

Tera Leigh began some research and learned that few hospitals have true infant bereavement programs. She learned about the difficulties for both the families and the nursing staff in coping with these tragic deaths. When Tera Leigh asked her mother, Marie Gemmil, to help and they began to call hospitals to find out if they had a program the reaction astounded us. Nearly every person we talked to began to cry when we told them we wanted to help! We heard horror stories from nurses who had to scrounge to wash a dirty bag in order to have something to give families the child's birth and death certificate, wrist band, footprints, etc.

We heard from women running support groups about the challenges of coping with such a loss. The thing that we heard over and over was that no one wanted to talk about it. It was too difficult; no one knew what to say. What the families craved most was to be able to talk about the child that they'd lost. Instead they heard, "it was for the best", or "you'll have another one". These boxes are a small way that we can help acknowledge the importance of the life these women carried inside of them. Through our art, we can create a keepsake box that the family may keep for generations. At the least, it will be a treasured memento of a brief life to a family who has few mementos of a too-brief life. We think that this is a very worthy project and are proud to be a part of it.

Since our launch in June, 1998 at the National Society of Decorative Painters convention, the Memory Box Artist Program has shipped over 613,700 boxes to hospitals around the world. We currently need 1,000 boxes per month to support the hospitals in our program. We have 386 hospitals in US, (Including Alaska and Hawaii) that we have sent boxes.

To give you an idea of the need, there are over 500 hospitals in California alone, so we are truly in the beginning of our journey to meet the needs of these hospitals.

After 10 ½ years of running a very successful program, Tera Leigh and Marie decided it was time to retire. In January 2009 the Memory Box Program was transferred to Tole Friends Association which is an online decorative painting community. Tole Friends is honored and dedicated to be able to continue the Memory Box program.

Generally, about 150 individuals and groups provide boxes for us each month, and that list changes from month to month as participants have time to create boxes. Some participants create boxes every month, others once a year and some create a few boxes only once. As a result, we work hard to spread the word about the program as we constantly need new participants to create the boxes we need to send out to hospitals in the program. It is an ongoing cycle for us.

Tera Leigh and Marie Gemmil (Tera Leigh's mother and cofounder of the program) identify hospitals with quality infant bereavement programs to guarantee the boxes go for the purpose for which they were created. The people who run these programs are fiercely dedicated to helping families through the devastation of losing a child.

Memory Box artists do not have to be members of the mailing list, to participate in the program. To participate in the program, read the information on the guidelines page even if you only create one box, you will be helping! We have many teachers who donate a class time to get their students to paint for us, etc. as a onetime event. We are grateful for every box we can get to a hospital!

Once you have completed a box (or group of boxes - often it is the same price to mail 3 boxes as one), please notify us (the firn will open in a new window).

You DO NOT SEND THE BOXES TO US. We never physically handle a box for the program. We are simply facilitators so that artists and hospitals can connect directly with one another to meet the need in the most efficient way possible.

Information about Infant Bereavement and Loss