Trudy Tuttle loved babies.
Mothers bringing their little ones into her card shop, newborns attending their first church service, and, of course, visits from her own grandchildren … the Fort Atkinson woman would make an immediate beeline toward infants and youngsters, enveloping them with cuddles and hugs.
So it is fitting that a new program serving eligible School District of Fort Atkinson families with children age 3 and under has been named in memory of Trudy Tuttle.
Trudy’s Room is located on the third floor of First United Methodist Church in Fort Atkinson. Open from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday and 10 a.m. to noon Friday, it is dedicated to fostering the well-being of infants and young children by facilitating the donation, collection and distribution of clothing, diapers, furniture and other basic supplies to families while helping them achieve economic independence.
Families may visit three times monthly, with one diaper and wipe package allowed at each visit.
It is patterned after Mary’s Room, an outreach of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Watertown, that has been in operation for 13 years.
Trudy Tuttle, who passed away June 19, 2018, at age 94, owned the Tuttle’s Hallmark in Fort Atkinson from 1976-87. Her late husband, Jim, and then son, Jon, operated the adjacent Tuttle’s Pharmacy for many years.
Trudy’s daughter, Lisa Tuttle Woods, who now operates Tuttle’s Hallmark, and St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and family friend Maryanne Bardenwerper toured Mary’s Room last November.
“Knowing that Lisa’s mom had such a fanatic love of holding babies, we thought we might be able to do this here in Fort,” Bardenwerper said. “We knew there was a need for single moms, young families with a lack of funds, to acquire all the baby needs without having to come up with the money.”
So they decided to open Trudy’s Room to help income-eligible young families, particularly those signed up with the Women, Infant and Children’s (WIC) program through the Jefferson County Health Department.
They put the word out through the churches involved in the Fort Atkinson Food Pantry, and First United Methodist Church immediately stepped forward to provide space for free.
Then Mary’s Room, which has been self-sufficient for seven years, donated its excess diapers and clothes to kick off Trudy’s Room’s inventory.
They include onesies all the way up to winter coats, tops, bottoms, shoes and socks. There also are a few breast pumps, storage carriers for breast milk and the like.
“We have all different sizes of clothes,” said Bardenwerper, who is the board of directors chairperson. “We start at 3 months old and go all the way up to 3 Toddler, but our primary focus is the families that are on the Women, Infant and Children’s Program administered through Jefferson County Health Department.”
She noted that the Health Department staff has been and will continue to be a great help in ensuring that any car seats or cribs donated are up to legal safety standards. The agency also helps spread the word about Trudy’s Room to WIC participants seeking clothes and diapers.
“The real liaison is our Facebook page,” Bardenwerper said. “On there are ongoing needs, so if we get a family who needs a carseat, Pack and Play or bed, that will be listed on there.”
It also will report that those donations can be made through and left in the church office.
“They are doing all of our administration for us, including the tax-exempt status … That’s taken a big burden off of us,” Bardenwerper said.
She said that Trudy’s Room is seeking at least 18 volunteers, so there will be two people on hand for every two-hour period it is open.
“We would like to have someone to help people go through the clothing, as well as keep an eye on their children. We’d love to find someone, perhaps one person per day, who would be willing to sit and read to give the children a chance to settle down,” Bardenwerper said.
Eventually, the board hopes to have free children’s books that families could pick out to take home, as well as have a lot of good, safe equipment so that families who need an extra crib or carseat will be able to get them.
In addition, she said, Trudy’s Room someday would like to have hours at which a Spanish language interpreter is on hand to assist visitors.
Bardenwerper pointed out that families who are not in the WIC program will be provided clothes and diapers during their first visit and then be encouraged to sign up for WIC.
She said that currently, Trudy’s Room only has the resources to serve residents of the School District of Fort Atkinson, but the ultimate goal is to partner with Mary’s Room to bridge the gap between the communities and be able to serve more families.
Both nonprofits’ Facebook pages are spreading the word on needed equipment. For instance, persons who would like to donate a double stroller should take it to Mary’s Room, which is helping a Lake Mills family.
Bardenwerper said that when families come to Trudy’s Room, volunteers will record their name and ages of children, as well as make sure each child receives a blanket.
“That information is in a notebook so that every month, we know that so-and-so received their diapers, etc.,” Bardenwerper said. “It is tracked so volunteers know whether the family is there for their first or third time, for instance.”
Right now, a family may receive three onesies, three jammies, one pair of shoes and three outfits per child each month.
“We strictly are from infant to 3T,” Bardenwerper said. “We ask that donors wash them using mild detergent and no dryer sheets, because many babies are allergic to chemicals in dryer sheets. If you are bringing us clothes, just make sure that they are clean.”
Bardenwerper said that volunteers eventually would like to hold a fundraiser such as a public baby shower to generate money for diapers. They also would appreciate any fundraising efforts by other organizations that would benefit Trudy’s Room.
In fact, she said, if every local church were to donate $100 per month, Trudy’s Room would have the funds for an ample amount of diapers.
In addition to Trudy’s Room being named after their mother, Lisa (Bill Woods) Tuttle Woods of Fort Atkinson, Jon (Becky) Tuttle of Fort Atkinson, Mary (Earl) Humphrey of Delavan and Tim (Patricia Schroeder) Tuttle of Naples, Fla., also are supporting the project in a variety of ways. They said they were very excited when Bardenwerper suggested opening the charity in honor of their mother.
“The big thing was to try and find a way to honor Lisa’s mom ongoing because she was such a really beloved member of the community, much like Jon and Lisa’s dad were,” Bardenwerper said. “They are considered friends and family by everybody. That was the reason we wanted to give something to perpetuate her mom’s love of children.”
Speaking on behalf of her family, Tuttle Woods said this program is the perfect fit to remember her mother.
“Why did she love babies so much? She just did. I don’t really know why,” she said. “She was anxious to start a family when she and dad got married, but he said, ‘no, we have to wait to get established and settled and we have a house.’”
That was five years, but then her dream came true.
“She had a connection with babies. She loved little kids, loved watching them play and interacting with them,” Tuttle Woods recalled. “We always had toys at the store and, while a mom shopped, she would play with the kids. There was a basket of toys that came out as soon as someone came through the door.”
She continued: “Babies made her so happy. She would get that sparkle in her eye. This is perfect.”
Tuttle Woods said she recently learned that Mary’s Room has a rocking chair and volunteers who hold the babies while they mothers shop.
“I was, like, ‘how did we not know this was going on in Watertown? I would have had Mom down there every darned week,’” she said with a laugh.
Tuttle Woods said she and her family are extremely excited about Trudy’s Room and the support it has received thus far.
“Weve just been so blessed with the donations from Watertown to get us started,” she said, adding, “Until we get things rolling, the Tuttles will be helping …”
She said the family greatly appreciates First United Methodist Church for furnishing the room gratis, adding that the third-floor room is “a beautiful space with a window and elevator access.
“They have been very generous, and we are under them for charitable donations. The church is a natural fit,” she said.
Tuttle Woods noted that the past couple of weeks have been the Trudy’s Room “soft opening.
“We don’t know what to expect once the word gets out. We might be overwhelmed. I don’t know, but we’ll see. We’ll take it as it comes,” she said.
Cash donations may be sent to Trudy’s Room, First United Methodist Church, 320 S. Main St., Fort Atkinson, WI, 53538, or dropped off at the church office.
Meanwhile, young children’s clothes from 0-3T left over after spring rummage sales are encouraged to donate them to Trudy’s Room. Again, drop off clean, gently used items at the church office between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday or during Trudy’s Room hours.