Since the local chapter of the Christ Child Society was founded by Rosaleen Crowley in 1947, it has clothed over a quarter of a million children. Current members are confident they can help even more at the organization’s new location on the aptly named Miracle Lane in Town and Country Shopping Centre on the border between South Bend and Mishawaka.
Formerly headquartered in the old St. Patrick School in downtown South Bend, the organization is delighted to have a brighter space and 10,000 additional square feet. Despite the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, generous volunteers have donned masks to strategize, take apart and put together shelving, and pack up boxes and bags galore to prepare for the July 20-22 move. They’ve also carefully planned an Aug. 12 opening to clients.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades was on hand to dedicate the new space on July 14 at an event chaired by co-president Monique Deguara. Past president Pat Falvey read the Gospel from Matthew 25:31-46 for the blessing and ribbon-cutting.
Bishop Rhoades pointed out that even though the reading about seeing and serving Christ in the needy is the “Magna Carta” of Christianity, the founder of the Christ Child Society, Mary Virginia Merrick, had a unique vision, focusing not on the adult Jesus but on the Holy Infant shining on the faces of needy children.
Board members and major donors joined the bishop in the spacious lobby of the new building, then went to their “stations” as he walked around and blessed with holy water rooms that will be used for administration, gatherings, storage and distribution of clothing, shoes and books. Until an open house becomes possible, there will be a virtual tour of the location on the Christ Child Society website, christchildsb.org.
Every child referred to the CCSSB by a local school or agency receives a new winter coat, hat and gloves as well as pajamas, underwear, shoes and outfits appropriate for their school setting. Donations of gently used clothing are carefully sorted and added to the new items. In the new space, those can be laundered; volunteers will no longer have to take them home to wash. Co-president Suzanne Wiwi emphasized that every child also receives a book.
The Christ Child Society also works with the Women’s Care Center to provide 4,000 “layettes of hope,” given to each mother after a positive pregnancy test. The society prepares more complete layettes for needy newborns at local hospitals. These include items like blankets, hats and booties hand-crafted by members. A special ministry of the society creates “angel layettes” for babies who don’t survive, which include the book “Full Heart, Empty Cradle.”
Wiwi joined Christ Child Society in the mid-1980s, when she was teaching part-time, because of its direct service to children in need. Until she retired as principal of St. Joseph Grade School, South Bend, in June 2016 and took care of some family responsibilities, her involvement was limited; but she made sure St. Joseph students got hands-on experience with organizations like Christ Child Society. She remembers that one student was amazed to learn how grateful the children were for receiving what seemed to the student like very few articles of clothing.
The 400 members of Christ Child Society of South Bend help when and how they are able. All are volunteers, with only a part-time administrative assistant drawing a salary. Many are second-generation members, like Maureen Cahir, daughter of the foundress.
COVID-19 has altered plans for the usual fundraising events organized by the society, but it was able to raise $110,000 this spring in a Room Naming Opportunity Appeal. Commented Beth Barrett, communications chairman, “I was amazed. People clearly want to see us expand our mission.”
Bishop Rhoades blessed every corner of the floor plan that society members had carefully designed. Their trademark Clothe-a-Child Mitten Kids logo on the outside windows will provide privacy for clients while proclaiming to passersby that the former furniture store has a new purpose.
Besides purchasing new clothing, the Christ Child Society gives two scholarships a year to parents wanting to further their education. Members also tutor students at St. Adalbert School.
Typically the process of clothing a family is very interactive, so a great deal of brainstorming has gone into how to modify it in light of the current health crisis. Only a few families at a time will be interviewed in the large front lobby, and runners will then use wagons to gather the clothing they need before they are texted to pick it up at the back door. There is a separate door designated for any necessary exchanges.
The methodology may have to be modified this year, but the mission of the Christ Child Society remains intact: It is “dedicated to the personal service and clothing of all needy children and infants in the love and spirit of the Christ Child.” Bishop Rhoades prayed to the Lord during the blessing, “May all who come here benefit from Your unfailing protection, know the presence of Christ, and grow in His love.”
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