By MEG WATERS     1/4/2022

The Catholic Church teaches us that all human life is precious and respect for the dignity of the human person is not only important, but it is also foundational to a moral vision for society.

This is why the Church has been at the forefront of protecting life from conception to natural death.

Recognizing that life is full of trauma that may make alternatives such as abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia etcetera seem reasonable, the church teaches they are, in fact, a grave moral evil.

But just saying “No” isn’t an answer for women in crisis, which is why so much of Catholic social service is directed at helping and supporting people who are facing terrible choices. And it is why Catholics support religious and secular organizations that are working hard to find ways to help individuals through the trauma without destroying the soul.

More than 30 years ago, Debbe Magnusen founded a nonprofit, Project Cuddle, initially to supply police cars with stuffed animals for on-the-scene comfort to children who were victims of crime.

A few years later she was appalled at news stories of babies being abandoned in dumpsters and left to die. She decided to change the focus of Project Cuddle to a rescue mission for women and their babies in crisis. She set up a toll-free hotline and within 12 hours received her first call.

“We are committed to helping women with whatever they need – everything from food and shelter to pre-and-post natal care to adoption service or helping her to raise her child herself, said Magnusen. “Most importantly, we do it all without judgment.”

At the time she began, it was illegal to surrender unwanted babies. Today, women can legally surrender unwanted babies at fire stations, hospitals, or other locations legally. Project Cuddle is one resource that these drop-off locations can turn to for assistance in finding the children care and a loving family.

Today, Project Cuddle has volunteers around the country who are willing to step in at a moment’s notice to help women in crisis find a compassionate solution to their dilemma. Through licensed adoption agencies Project Cuddle can link hopeful parents with children providing a wonderful outcome to a terrible situation. Other times, mothers just need help and support to sort out the best alternatives which may also include housing, counseling, food, and provisions for the baby so that the mother can successfully raise the child.

Again, all this is done in a supportive, non-judgmental environment.

They even get asked by women in abortion clinics who have had a change of heart but don’t know where to turn.

One of Magnusen’s early calls eventually led to the adoption of her first child. Since then, Debbe and her husband adopted five children in addition to their two biological children. All adults now, they are well educated, thriving and living the life God meant for them.

In all, Project Cuddle has rescued nearly 1,000 children across the country, and a few overseas.

Debbe attributes her passion for abandoned babies to an incident in Mexico when she was about 8 yearsold. Her father, a dentist, was visiting an orphanage in Mexico to care for the children’s dental needs. While young Debbe was sitting at the dinner table with the other children, a bedraggled man burst into the room caring for a naked newborn, covered in blood with the umbilical cord still attached. The orphanage immediately took the child in, but the visual of this poor unwanted baby remained in the recesses of Debbe’s heart.

“I think I had blocked it out for many years because the memory was so traumatizing, recalled Magnusen. “But after I had started rescuing babies, my mother reminded me of the incident in Mexico, and it brought all the memories flooding back. I think that is where I get my commitment to this cause.”

Early on, Project Cuddle attracted the attention of many celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, John Stamos and Paula Abdul who recorded a video to introduce the public to the need for Project Cuddle, and the services it provides.

Project Cuddle is based in Costa Mesa. There are always opportunities for volunteers and donations of cash or baby items. People interested in volunteering can download a application online to begin the process.

Magnusen says it typically costs about $1,000 to rescue a baby – funds to help the mom or cover other fees. For more information, please visit https://projectcuddle.org/  or call 188TOCUDDLE or 1-888-628-3353.