Eastside Baby Corner in Issaquah is in the serious business of helping to give children a better shot at a good life by supporting families that can't always provide their children with the basics.

Share story

A blanket, a bike, a book. Any of those items could make a difference in a child’s life.

It’s easy to forget how meaningful stuff most of us take for granted can be, but I know someone who always remembers.

She’s a pediatric nurse practitioner named Karen Ridlon, whose focus for the past 22 years has been little things that make a big difference.

Several months ago, she called and told me about the organization she founded, Eastside Baby Corner (EBC).

The image that name brought to my mind was of a small, posh shop where a family might buy fashionable bootees. But it’s nothing of the sort.

EBC is in the serious business of helping to give children a better shot at a good life by supporting families that can’t always provide their children with the basics.

What it does isn’t just old-fashioned charity, it stands solidly on the latest research into what children need to thrive.

EBC takes that mission seriously. Its annual luncheon Tuesday was themed: saving lives, saving futures.

Helping children thrive is the right and moral thing to do, and it’s also a smart, effective and cost-efficient way to improve neighborhoods and cities for everyone.

A flood of research over the past couple of decades has shown how what happens to children early in life affects everything that comes later.

Stress that is too constant or too intense can show up in adulthood as heart disease, diabetes, allergies, anxiety disorders, substance abuse.

Kids’ brains can be trained to see the world as a threatening place, and they can become quick to react violently to perceived dangers or insults.

Infants can be denied the stimulation their brains need to form connections that will make learning easier later on.

Nutrition, safe housing, parental education and other interventions make proven differences.

Ridlon acted on her instincts and knowledge earlier than most. As a pediatric nurse practitioner, Ridlon saw how many children started life without the basics, and she recognized the dangers that deprivation presented.

She started providing children with diapers, blankets and other essentials, stockpiling stuff in her dining room.

In 1990, she started Eastside Baby Corner, which now operates out of a storage warehouse in Issaquah — space that is partly donated. Every inch is given over to cribs, clothes, toys, formula, car seats and other items needed by children from birth to 12.

When I visited, Karen asked me to imagine what happens when a mother can’t afford diapers. Maybe the child gets a rash and won’t stop crying. Mother and baby are stressed.

Then how likely is the mother to sit and read to her child? How likely are they to have any of the positive interactions that light up baby brains and speed their learning?

What happens if the mother is already stressed by all the other challenges poor families face? Frustration can sometimes lead to abuse. As a nurse, Karen has seen that, and she wants to prevent it.

She’s attracted an army of volunteers who sort donations, shop for bargains, stuff bags with items chosen for each child. They work in a crowded, unheated space, and yet everyone seems genuinely happy to be there because they’re doing something meaningful.

Overhead may eat into the operating budget of most organizations, but EBC operates as lean as any place I’ve seen. There is no glitz, no glamour and a pretty low profile.

EBC helps some families directly, but it’s is often in the background, putting together packages for front-line partners, social-service agencies, food banks, school districts, health providers. More than 120 such partners depend on Eastside Baby Corner to provide goods. That help frees the partners to spend their dollars on other services.

Eastside Baby Corner quietly helps the helpers, and in the long run helps all of us.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @jerrylarge.