Large cardboard boxes the size of moving crates line the back wall of the classroom-like space, stacked five to six columns high. All are filled with empty baby bottles. It takes a hundred of the bottles to fill a pink garbage bag, and many bags piled together around the boxes. But a diligent group of ladies labels and stuffs more bottles into more bags.
The women are members of the Christ Child Society of Fort Wayne, which is preparing for its annual Baby Bottle Campaign. Roughly 5,700 of the bottles will be distributed at Fort Wayne-area Catholic churches on the weekend of Jan. 25-26. Three weeks later they’ll be collected, full of pocket change and dollar bills collected by generous parishioners.
It may seem like just another fundraising event, but there’s an extensive life cycle to the coins and bills collected in Christ Child baby bottles.
The Baby Bottle Campaign was the brainchild of the family of Amy Urban, who brought the program to Fort Wayne in 2014. “It was my mom’s idea,” Urban said. “At the time, we were looking for creative ways to raise money, and my mom went to Mass in Chicago with my brother and they passed out baby bottles.” Urban took the idea to Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, spiritual advisor of the Fort Wayne chapter of Christ Child Society, and he was supportive of the idea. The volunteers went to work.
Baby bottle brigade
The Baby Bottle Campaign gears up in November, with the planning phase. In early December, volunteers meet for a baby bottle workday: labeling, stuffing and organizing the bottles needed for each participating parish. January sees the distribution of the bottles at the parish level.
Not all area parishes participate in the campaign, and some are brand-new to it. Participating parishes typically have a dedicated coordinator to oversee the efforts. Pro-life groups sometimes participate in handing out baby bottles after each Mass as well.
On the pre-announced collection day, CCS members and other volunteers retrieve the filled bottles that have been turned in at each parish. After each bottle is emptied, a Brinks truck comes to the site to pick up the money and deliver it to the bank for counting and processing.
Any bottles returned after the collection date go to the chapter treasurer, who takes those donations to the bank as they trickle in. Sometimes bottles will be returned nearly a full year later, but that doesn’t bother CCS members. “I keep a bottle in my house all year long and keep putting change in it,” said Tina Bailey. Bailey has been a member since 2008 and begins a two-year commitment as director this year.
Initially, Bailey joined because her mother, Marlene Offerle, wanted them to join together. She remained in the organization because of the deep love she developed for the women with whom she served. “To see them bend over backwards to get the best deals on coats, the highest quality coats; how they would go out of their way to pay it forward…it was inspiring,” said Bailey.
Urban sees the fundraising event as an excellent opportunity for parents to teach young children generosity. “This is a fun thing for the kids; they really get involved, and it’s a great way to teach them about giving.”
It’s especially touching for Urban to see the connection children make with their younger siblings who still use bottles, knowing that they are helping children their siblings’ age.
Layettes for babies
The Baby Bottle Campaign supports five main projects run by the Fort Wayne Christ Child Society: the Layettes Program, Coats for Kids, Crib Clubs, My Stuff backpacks and the Reading Rangers.
“Every chapter has a layette program. It’s the Christ Child Society’s signature program,” said Bailey. A layette was the first gift given out by the group’s founder, and it was given at Christmastime. The connection to the Christ Child gave the society its name. Today, the layettes are delivered through local hospitals to new mothers.
Books for preschoolers
The Reading Rangers program was the Fort Wayne chapter’s take on a nationwide Christ Child Society initiative to improve childhood literacy. Volunteers visit two local Catholic schools, St. Joseph and Most Precious Blood, once a month to read to preschool students and make a craft project with them. The books are selected by members who use their expertise as librarians, former teachers and grandmothers to choose appropriate content, and the current classroom teacher also offers input on books that might appeal to the students. Each child is also presented with his or her own copy of the chosen book, helping to put books into households that may not have many.
Coats for Kids
The other three programs that benefit from the Baby Bottle Campaign are unique to Fort Wayne. Coats for Kids may be the most well-known and is largest charitable operation of the Fort Wayne organization. “We gave away around 1,900 coats in a month last year,” Bailey said.
Volunteers make certain that they get the best deals to stretch the funds to their maximum. The new coats are high-quality, many of them from Macy’s end-of-season sales. Working with an online company, Janet Didier, co-chairman of Coats for Kids, does most of the ordering, ensuring that the inventory is well-stocked. She is able to ask for specific sizes and styles to avoid overstocking sizes or styles the program already in abundance.
The coats are given away on Wednesdays in October, when families in local Catholic and public schools whose children are in need are invited to a central location to pick one out for themselves. The children are given gloves and a scarf to go along with their new coat.
Occasionally, the Christ Child Society will make a road trip to accommodate a school with great need. Bailey recalled the joy on the faces of the children at St. Patrick Parish in Ligonier three years ago, to which the society brought coats at the bishop’s request.
Crib Clubs and school backpacks
The Christ Child Society partners with Women’s Care Center to provide clothing and baby items through Crib Clubs. Mothers served by the WCC can earn coupons to buy necessary items at Crib Clubs located throughout the area.
Older children, specifically children in foster care, were originally meant to be the recipients of yet more Baby Bottle-funded generosity: “My Stuff” backpacks filled with school supplies. But when a miscommunication left the Christ Child Society without a way to distribute the backpacks, rather than allowing the supplies to pile up a member went out to “find avenues that hadn’t been covered yet,” said Bailey. The backpacks have since gone to homeless children staying in temporary housing such as Charis House and Vincent Village. Volunteers who sew also saw a need for teaching sewing skills to younger generations: so members of the sewing committee now visit Vincent Village and The Courtyard at SCAN to help young adults develop those skills.
Phantom Ball and Golfing for Kids
While the Baby Bottle Campaign is the Christ Child Society’s largest fundraising event of the year, a Phantom Ball does take place each autumn.
“This is a non-event,” Bailey described. Instead of black-tie and gown, the fancy invitations to the Phantom Ball ask if sponsors would be willing to donate the amount they would usually pay for the trappings of a formal dinner. This allows more funds to go to the children, rather than splitting proceeds with the expenses of a formal dinner.
‘Nothing is ever too much to do for a child’
The Christ Child Society takes a break from its work during the summer, except for an annual golf outing, “Golfing for Kids,” a social event that has morphed into an opportunity to raise just a little more money for layettes, books, coats and backpacks. Two years ago, men were allowed to join in the 18-hole Florida scramble.
As there are no paid staff in the Christ Child Society, the organization’s overhead is minimal. All members volunteer their time. Urban stated that the most important characteristic of the Baby Bottle Campaign is that “when those bottles come back filled, the money goes right back out” to fulfill the mission of helping underprivileged children.
The decorative baby bottles will appear in parishes soon and should be returned the weekend of Feb. 15-16. Bottles are always collected before the beginning of Lent so as not to interfere with other charitable tithing during the solemn season. However, donations are accepted year-round at the society’s website, and funds can be designated for specific programs. These donations help the Christ Child Society fulfill their mission of improving the lives of children, as “nothing is ever too much to do for a child.”
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