Since organising her first charity event in Falkirk’s Callendar Park last May, Kellie Cunningham (33) has gone on to raise a staggering £55,000 for the Forth Valley Stillbirth and Neonatal Deaths (Sands) volunteers who were there in her time of need following the loss of her son, Henry, to group B strep in 2017.
A second 5k run, held in the same venue at the start of this month, added £20,300 to the £34,000 in donations Kellie and her sister, Debbie, had collected last year. And, with cash-in-hand donations still to be totted up, that total will rise further still.
The original fundraiser was born out of her determination to show her appreciation to the bereavement service and make others aware of the support it offers.
That in turn has led to more than 400 runners, many of whom have also suffered the heartache of losing a child through stillbirth, turning out to pay tribute to their “angel babies” and thank the Sands volunteers for all of their hard work.
Monthly Sands meet-ups at Forth Valley Spiritual Centre, along with information packs containing memory boxes and hand and footprint kits, have proved vital in helping Kellie come to terms with her son’s death. Equally, so have the friendships she has struck up with other parents dealing with similar circumstances.
As she reflected on the amount she has raised in the space of just a year, Kelly said: “I never thought I would get near that at all.
“We had 271 runners this year and a lot of people took part who unfortunately have found themselves in this position. When I started it was more awareness I wanted to raise, which is what has happened.
“There have been quite a few in the last few months who have said to me they were going to their first Sands meeting.
“This run has become much more than we could have hoped. It has given grieving families a place to celebrate the memory of their babies alongside others who have suffered a loss. Thank you to everyone who has taken part, all of the volunteers who turned up and to everyone who donated.”
Participants have credited Kellie and her family for organising the fundraisers, which, they say, have helped enormously with the grieving process.
Siobhan Heanue, whose son Oliver was delivered stillborn in October 2017, said: “One of a bereaved parent’s worst fears is that their child will be forgotten so being part of things like Kellie’s 5k is so important and special to families like ours.”
Gayle McMeechan attended her first Sands meeting in January after losing her daughter, Katie, five years ago. She said: “When I heard about the 5k there was no doubt I had to do it in memory of so many angel babies and raise awareness for stillbirth and neonatal death.
“My baby may have been stillborn but she was still born.”
Jen Stewart, who lost twins David and Cooper, also heaped praise on the Denny woman for setting up the event.
She said: “The Sands fun run has allowed me to give back to a charity that helped my husband and I to find some way out of the total devastation of losing our twin boys.
“We’ve never felt grief like this. We relive and remember everything that happened the day we lost David and Cooper.
“Sands were there from when we lost our boys to today.
“This 5k that wonderful Kellie Cunningham organised allowed us to give back to Sands on what would have been our sons’ fifth birthday this year.
“Thank you Kellie for giving us parents the opportunity of stopping the stigma of baby death.
“We need to open up more and be proud of our wonderful babies and prevent other parents from going through this unbearable grief.”
Anyone affected by bereavement can attend Sands’ meetings at Forth Valley Spiritual Centre on the second Wednesday of each month (7.30-9.30pm).
The charity also provides phone and text support on 0845 834 0230 and 07748 656478 respectively. Visit www.forthvalleysands.org.uk for more information.