Meet the Ohio Teen Fighting Infant Heroin Addiction One Baby Blanket at a Time
Sidney Depp was 14 when she learned that a child in the United States is born addicted to opioids every 19 minutes.
“Our family has some friends who had recently been certified to take in foster children,” the Springboro, Ohio, teen tells PEOPLE, “and their very first week, they got a call to care for a baby who had been born addicted to heroin. I had no idea that it was such a big problem, and as soon as I saw that baby, I wanted to do something to help.”
Now 16, Sidney — a sophomore cheerleader at Springboro High School — has spent the past two years running a non-profit called The Love Project, which has thus far decorated and donated more than 2,000 baby blankets for hospitals throughout Ohio to use to swaddle drug-addicted babies.
After learning that wrapping infants in receiving blankets was one of the best ways to provide comfort while they’re withdrawing from opioids, “I thought that’s something I can do to make a difference where I live,” Sidney says.
Shocked to learn that nearby Dayton was recently named the number one city in the nation for drug overdoses, with two other Ohio towns also making the top 10 list, Sidney is hoping to expand her blanket project with help from a GoFundMe campaign.
“When most people think of a drug addict, they think of somebody on the side of the road in a big city,” she tells PEOPLE, “but the reality is that heroin addiction is a problem in small towns as well, affecting children before they are even born. I want to raise awareness for these forgotten victims, and also remind the babies’ mothers that they are loved.”
Through her efforts, Sidney met 33-year-old Nichole Potts — who was devastated to learn that she had passed along her heroin addiction to her son Christian, now two. Christian was one of the first babies to receive one of Sidney’s swaddling blankets.
“When I met Sidney [at the hospital], she treated us like any other mother and new baby,” Potts tells PEOPLE, “instead of making me feel like a terrible person. For once, I didn’t feel judged, just loved. It made me feel really special, getting that blanket. Ever since, I’ve been clean and sober, and Christian is now healthy and happy. It’s wonderful to know there are people like Sidney who care.”
Using new donated receiving blankets along with blankets sold to her by a local Walmart for $1 each, Sidney irons “You Are Loved” patches on the comforters before dropping them off by the boxload to area hospitals.
“When I first started doing this, it broke my heart to find out that most of these babies are left alone to go through withdrawal because their mothers aren’t able to see them,” she says. “Nurses can’t spend enough time with them and hospitals need more volunteers. But with a blanket, at least these babies can feel some comfort and relief. And when the blanket goes home with them, they’ll always have a reminder that they are loved.”
The youngest of three children, Sidney receives plenty of support from her parents, Virginia and Phil Depp, who were saddened to learn of their community’s need and delighted that their daughter stepped up to do what she could to help.
“I noticed from a very young age that people have always been drawn to Sidney,” Phil tells PEOPLE, “and her personality and smile light up a room. It’s been humbling and exciting to watch people’s support of her and ‘The Love Project.’ ”
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“I love that she’s been able to take this current drug epidemic and give people a new perspective on some of the victims,” adds Virginia. “Sidney is teaching us that everyone can do their part to make a difference in the world.”
An honor student who dreams of one day becoming an emergency room trauma doctor, Sidney hopes that other young people will be inspired by her project and put it to use in their own hometowns, large or small.
“When you think about it, you’re helping to welcome a new person into the world and comforting them during a time of intense pain,” she says. “If you can help alleviate their suffering even a little bit, that’s what The Love Project is all about.”