by Larry Oxenham, Publisher
It is really easy to get caught up in the never ending struggles of life brought to us by media, friends, family and just about every source we run into. More than 10 years ago I came a cross a story so inspiring, so special, I have repeated it for my subscribers every year, and every year they look forward to it as if it is brand new …
Such is the story of the Abandoned Babies and a lady named Debi.
Debi Cifelli was reading the newspaper one day in 1996 when she read of a baby found dead and abandoned in a duffel bag on the side of one of Southern California’s freeways. She wondered what happened to the baby; after all, it had nobody to speak for it, had no name and, presumably, had no instructions for care and burial.
Debi called the County of Los Angeles and was told the babies are held at a county facility and, if not claimed, are cremated.
“Are they given a name?” she asked.
“Does anyone memorialize them in any way?”
“Do they even have baby clothes?”
The answers both astonished and saddened her.
The babies, she was told, are placed in cold storage and then removed for cremation after the specified time. All work is done efficiently, impersonally and in the interest of clearing space, like cleaning out your garage.
Debi couldn’t stand the thought that a new life would be brought into the world, the umbilical cut, the baby discarded into a trash bin like an empty milk container, and the baby’s only knowledge of life a cold, painful, hunger-wracked few hours of suffering, never held, never cradled, never warm.
And then the ultimate insult of being buried without ever having been loved, as if never born, never human.
Debi suffered through the County bureaucracy and finally reached an agreement with the county: the county would keep the babies the prescribed time but then, instead of cremating them, would turn them over to Debi who would pick them up, clothe them, give them a name, tell them they were loved, and then provide a dignified burial with a service. She buried the babies in receiving clothes and gave each a stuffed animal to share the space.
Desert Lawn Cemetery, located along Highway 10 between San Bernardino and Palm Springs in Southern California, close to Debi’s home, agreed to dedicate a burial space for her abandoned babies.
The new space was named Garden of Angels and is part of the Garden of Gods Cemetery in Banning, California.
Here is the children’s section; you can see how many babies Debi buried.
But Debi didn’t stop there; she was instrumental in California passing Safe Arms for Newborns legislation in 2000 which allows mothers to drop newborns off at hospitals and fire stations without consequence. The law has now been passed in almost all 50 states.
If the story ended here, it would mark Debi Cifelli as an American saint.
Then in early December, while Debi was shopping, her husband called to tell her their lives were about to change; they had purchased the winning lotto ticket at a small store in nearby Yucaipa: Their share of the winnings amounted to just over $10,000,000!
That’s TEN MILLION DOLLARS AND SOME CHANGE.
The mayor of their small town said this is the first time he has ever heard of an entire community literally standing and applauding lotto winners.
Instead of buying a mansion or a yacht or traveling the world, they earmarked most of the money to set up scholarships in the names of each of the unclaimed babies resting at Garden of Angels cemetery.
“We feel, honestly, like this has been a gift to us and it is very important that we honor the children in the Garden of Angels. I feel like it is really (the children) just saying, Thank you for taking care of us.”
Debi and Steve Cifelli still live and work in the same community, and remain committed to the cause of the newborns.
Of the babies saved, Debi said: “Who knows what they are going to do with their life now that they have the opportunity to live”.
Here is a picture of Debi with some of ‘her’ kids –
Who knows, maybe one of them will continue the mission she started.
Every time I visit Palm Springs I pull off the freeway at the Garden of the Gods cemetery and visit the space reserved for the babies. Thanks to Debbie’s great work the space has not expanded dramatically… but it is still amazingly moving to see all those crosses and realize the lives that have been thrown to the side of the road.
Postscript: We are happy to let you know you can get more information at www.gardenofangels.org and even see a picture with Debi and learn more about her foundation.