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 on 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 walk, which is expected to raise $400,000 to help reduce premature births. In Maine, one in eight babies is born prematurely each year.

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

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 25 weeks early in December. He survived for nine days.

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

Jessica Orlandi of Portland said she joined the walk for the help she received from the March of Dimes when her son Francis, now 2 and healthy, was born 11 weeks early, weighing less than 3 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, I have been hard-core into this,” she said about supporting the March of Dimes.

Aubrey Martin of Wiscasset said she lost her first son, Garron, who was born at 23 weeks. She said the March of Dimes helped her come to terms with his death.

“They had information about what to do to ensure future pregnancies” turned out healthy, she said.

Today, Martin is the mother of Ryan, 2, and Atharv, 5, who was adopted from India by Martin and her husband a year-and-a-half ago.

Nationally, 7 million people were expected to take part in the March for Babies.

Erin O’Connor Jones, state director of the Maine Chapter of the March of Dimes Foundation, said the Portland walk attracted 200 more walkers than expected. Just over 1,100 people made the march around Back Cove.

“Everyone did a good job. There were no mishaps,” she said.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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CORRECTION: This story was updated Monday, May 7 to reflect that Aubrey Martin’s son was born at 23 weeks, not 23 weeks early.