HOUSTON -

Thousands of Houstonians turned out Sunday morning to help babies who were born too soon.

The sound of the Cupid Shuffle bounced off the walls of the University of Houston stadium. It was a full party atmosphere taking place prior to 8:30 a.m. That's the March for Babies! The 41st annual event to benefit the March of Dimes on the University of Houston campus is equal parts memorial, party and celebration.

Katie Cooper was celebrating the survival of her daughter, Caroline, who was born weighing 1 pound 14 ounces.

"It's a neat celebration and fun to be out here with people who were part of her care," Cooper said. "We're just excited that the day is here."

The Coopers are the local March of Dimes Ambassador Family and just one of thousands of families walking on this day to raise money and awareness about the March of Dimes' mission to one day see every baby born healthy.

At exactly 9 a.m., an estimated 40,000 walkers stepped off from the Robertson Stadium grounds, starting a 5-mile walk for the cause.

Scott McClelland, the Houston area president of H-E-B and the 2012 March for Babies chairman, beamed with pride.

"It's great to see the whole culmination and everything come together," he said. "We're seeing a sea of red, blue and purple T-shirts. Teams from every major company and individuals came out to raise $3 million for the March of Dimes."

Elizabeth Killinger is a senior vice president for Reliant Energy. Her company is a sponsor and she is a member of the March of Dimes board of directors. She also has a son who almost died because of complications related to his premature birth. For her, being a part of Sunday's walk was extra special.

"We were blessed that he is healthy now today," she said. "We want to prevent other families from going through this experience, and the way to do that is for babies to go full term. The March of Dimes helps to do that."

The impact of Sunday's event can be seen in the passion and commitment of the dozens of local and national companies that are sponsors of the 2012 March for Babies. KPRC Local 2 has been the media sponsor for more than a dozen years.

United Airlines is the official carrier and has continued its tradition of flying the national ambassador family across the country for appearances and events. President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Smisek was on hand for Sundays walk and said it is an honor and privilege to do so.

"It gives an opportunity for the March of Dimes to get out and spread its word across the entire nation," he said. We've been doing it for years and we're big supporters of the March of Dimes -- have been and always will be."

Officials said the March raised about $3.7 million. Donations will be collected through the end of May, so that number is expected to go up.