By Michelle Castleman
FORT WAYNE — At this year’s annual Mass and dinner with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades to be held on Oct. 15, the Christ Child Society will celebrate a special milestone — 15 years as a chapter in Fort Wayne. Over their short tenure in Fort Wayne, the Christ Child Society has grown by leaps and bounds and multiplied their membership tenfold.
Bishop Rhoades was on hand Oct. 3 to bless a special endeavor — a new facility to house their “Coats for Kids” distribution project. Since its inception, Christ Child Society has given out brand new winter coats, hats and gloves each fall to youngsters in the Fort Wayne community who might otherwise go without.
Christ Child Society procured the old Sears building at Rudisill Plaza thanks to the generous efforts of Tippmann Properties, upgrading from both St. Paul’s, then Sacred Heart School, where they have been housed since the first coats were distributed in October 1998. The new space will be leased to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend at a nominal charge and no rental fee will be passed on to the Christ Child Society.
The location is ideal and will serve the clients of the Christ Child Society well.
Bill Dotterweich, who has been instrumental to the ongoing success of the Christ Child Society, detailed, “The building is located conveniently on a bus route, has more than ample parking, full time security guards and large, clean lavatory facilities on both floors.”
There is much activity in the area with other tenants in the building that employ over 200 people. Family and Social Services Agencies are also under the same roof making it a familiar stop for the clients. The Christ Child Society is segregated from the rest of the well-maintained building with a separate street level entrance.
Coats for Kids is just one of the many ministries of the Christ Child Society. A relieved and grateful 2012 co-chair, Lynne Pollifrone, stated, “We are so blessed to have obtained this facility. It has taken a lot of hard work by everyone involved, but our first distribution day went very smoothly.”
Coats will be distributed again each Wednesday during the month of October. The project started humbly, giving out 93 coats the very first year. Over time, records kept on hand-written 5×7 index cards have been replaced by speedy check-ins on seven donated laptops and last year members gave out over 2,000 coats.
The other original ministry, which is at the heart of every Christ Child chapter, is Layettes for Infants. Like their founder, Mary Virginia Merrick, first did in 1884, Christ Child Society members assemble and provide hundreds of layettes annually containing clothing, a blanket, diapers, baby bottles and other basic necessities for a newborn infant in need at area hospitals and social service agencies.
Also in 1998, Christ Child Society members added My Stuff Backpacks that contain personal items and school supplies for children in crisis situations to their list of undertakings with tutoring at Most Precious Blood and St. John, Fort Wayne, grade schools, provided since 2001. These ministries currently operate out of the Archbishop Noll Catholic Center. Crib Club came on board in 2004. The Christ Child Society maintains a room at three different locations located within the Women’s Care Centers (WCC) in Fort Wayne known as the Crib Club. The rooms are stocked with infant care items for expectant and new mothers who are clients of the WCC. The women use coupons they have earned by attending prenatal check-ups and parenting classes to “shop” in the room. In addition, Christ Child Society has four different internal committees for their nearly 200 members to become involved including: event planning/fundraising, spiritual, communications and membership.
The Fort Wayne chapter came about after founding president, Peggy Dotterweich, ran into then National Christ Child Society president Kathleen Gibbons at a reception following the Notre Dame vs. Ohio State football game in 1995.
“She asked for help. It was that simple,” Dotterweich explained. Discussions, correspondence, visits and a request to then Bishop John M. D’Arcy followed over the next year. Finally, in April 1997, 18 charter members, who mostly came from the Orphans’ Guild, got the green light for the very first meeting.
Dotterweich continued, “Our chapter was one of the first to set up as a 501c3 nonprofit corporation. If something were to happen to national, our chapter would always be there, no matter what.”
Fort Wayne is one of over 40 chapters of the National Christ Child Society across the country that provides services to at-risk children. The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend also has a large chapter in South Bend. Founded in 1887 in Washington, D.C., by Merrick, volunteers continue to live out the legacy of their founder by sharing and expanding her vision of faith-in-action 125 years later.
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