PORTLAND — Hundreds of people sporting white, pink and purple beaded necklaces made their way out of Payson Park on Sunday morning to raise money for the March of Dimes.

Fifteen minutes later the line of walkers stretched around Back Cove, appearing to move like a giant caterpillar around the popular walking trail that circles the water.

The walkers were joined by others at March for Babies events across the state. More than 2,000 Mainers took part in the annual March of Dimes walk, which is expected to raise $400,000 to help reduce premature births.

One of every eight Maine babies is born prematurely.

The white beads were worn by families whose babies died, purple by families with premature babies and pink by those who have had healthy newborns.

Drew and Chrisanne Greeley of South Portland set out from Payson Park with about 30 family members and friends who collectively raised $3,000.

The couple lost their first child, Drew, who was born in December 25, several weeks too early. He survived for only nine days.  

“The March of Dimes provided people for us to talk with, (as well as) education and literature,” Drew Greeley said.

Jessica Orlandi of Portland said she joined the walk because of the help she received from the March of Dimes when her son Francis — now 2 and healthy — was born 11 weeks early and weighing less than three pounds.

She said she will never forget the sight of other mothers of premature babies crying in the hospital hallways.

“It was scary. Ever since then I have been hardcore into this,” she said about supporting the March of Dimes.