For over 100 years, the Christ Child Society has been making children and teens feel loved
When Savannah Keller and her dad George arrived at the Williamson County Tax Assessor/Collector’s Office to get her car registration renewed, they found the office closed for training. George looked over at his eighteen-year-old daughter. “Well,” he said, “you want to try out the Williamson County Health Services?”
They were both nervous about this step. Savannah’s whole life had changed when she found out that she was pregnant days before her high school graduation in June. Even though her plans for college and travel were delayed, she felt she could handle all the changes in her life. She was going to get help from family and from WIC (Women, Infants, and Children Program) to raise the baby herself.
Savannah and her father were greeted by Sandra Wills, the Program Navigator/Care Coordinator. She helped Savannah fill out the paperwork proving her eligibility for financial assistance and answered George’s questions.
“I have one more thing for you,” Sandra said as she collected the last of the paperwork. She left briefly and came back with a large black bag adorned with a yellow ribbon.
“This is for you,” she said.
Savannah opened the bag and pulled out diapers, a onesie with a teddy bear on it, a hooded towel, and other baby necessities. Among the collection of homemade items was a yellow crocheted blanket and matching hat. “Where did you get this?” Savannah asked.
“Some really sweet ladies at an organization called Christ Child Society made this for you,” Sandra said.
Savannah burst into tears, thinking about the love of the women who made this blanket for mothers in need.
Gift from Grandma
Every member of Savannah’s family reacted to the news of Savannah’s pregnancy in ways that surprised her. Instead of being disappointed in her, they offered help and encouragement. Their love gave her courage during the pregnancy’s early months. She missed only one family member’s love—that of her grandmother “Babe,” who passed away in 2013. Savannah and Babe, who lived with the Kellers before her death, were very close. Savannah wished that Babe could be part of her baby’s life. The layette filled with handmade clothes and items reminded Savannah of Babe, who cross-stitched picture frames for her, her siblings, and her cousins when they were babies.
When Savannah held the crocheted blanket and hat, she felt closer to her grandmother. “It means a lot that I’m getting something creative like this from a lady at Christ Child, because I just want my grandma to be here and experience this with me,” Savannah said.
Christ Child Society
Christ Child Society has been making layettes for 125 years. Their founder, Mary Virginia Merrick, was a young woman who wanted to make a difference in children’s lives from her bed or sofa, where paralysis confined her. When she was 18, she gathered a few friends together in her room to make a blanket for a mother in need. This was her first step to aid children. Merrick, inspired by the Biblical story of Mary and the birth of Jesus, recalled, “When I read ‘She wrapped him in swaddling clothes,’ I longed to do the same, and He Himself taught me that I might still do so in the person of His poor, and a great desire was born within me to go out and find the poor that I might find Him.” Throughout her life, Merrick worked tirelessly to aid children in poverty.
Merrick led the Christ Child Society until her death in 1955. Today, Christ Child continues her cause in many states. The Christ Child Society Texas Capital Area, Inc., chapter has about seventy members, most from Georgetown and Round Rock. Together, they assemble more than 6,000 layettes every year. Their mission statement is to have “a love for the Christ Child, expressed in fellowship and service to our community’s youth who are most in need of spiritual, physical, emotional, or economic support, regardless of race or creed. All members have a respect for life and the desire to help a child.”
The chapter does a lot more than provide layettes, although that is their largest project. They also make bereavement boxes for mothers of miscarried or stillborn children, coordinate reading time for preschoolers, provide caps and gowns for graduates in need, and assemble draw-string backpacks filled with hygiene products for homeless and disadvantaged teenagers.
Assembly Line of Love
Each piece in the layette and the bereavement boxes is handmade by society members. As they sew and crochet together, they carry on the legacy of service demonstrated by the group of friends who gathered in Merrick’s room in 1884.
“Some chapters don’t make all of the items in the layette, just the blanket, but we like to make it all,” Barbara Forby, current president of the local chapter, says. “It keeps it more personal.”
They order the fabric in bulk yearly. Then, once a month, members carry sewing machines into a volunteer’s home, line them up, and start sewing, cutting, stitching, and assembling. They meet again later, sometimes with husbands, children, boyfriends, grandchildren, and friends, to assemble the packages.
“It feels like a family affair,” Sarah Brunet, longtime member and president-elect, says. “Everyone comes out, we eat, we talk, we gather to serve, and everyone participates. It’s one of the few groups I’ve been a part of where people want to stay and hang out afterward!”
These families and friends gather to help children know that they are loved and end up feeling loved in return.
Making a Difference
In order to protect the recipient’s dignity, the members of Christ Child rarely meet the women and children who benefit from their labor. Instead, Christ Child gives layettes and backpacks to school counselors, area nurses, and Williamson County & Cities Health personnel, who find the recipients for their donations. Sometimes, people like Sandra will share an anonymous testimonial with the Christ Child members to encourage these servant-hearted women. Sandra has given away 60 layettes a year for the five years that she has worked at Williamson County & Cities Health District. She’s collected many special stories, like Savannah’s. She has given layettes to pregnant refugee mothers who just arrived from overseas with nothing, to victims of domestic abuse, and to women in other difficult situations.
“Once a pregnant teenager came into my office looking for help. She was planning to have the baby and then give the baby up for adoption,” Sandra says. “When she pulled that blanket out of the layette, she smelled it and touched it to her face. That day, something changed in her, and she realized that she couldn’t give the baby up. Two years later, she came back into my office with a two-year-old in her arms.” The memory brings tears to Sandra’s eyes.
The recipients who have been able to contact the Christ Child Society, like Savannah, say that when they opened their layette, they felt overwhelmingly that they were loved.
“I have the baby blanket and matching hat on my bed,” Savannah says. “They’ll be sitting there until I have my baby in February. I can tell that they were made with a lot of love, just like my grandmother would have made them.”
Savannah will meet the women who made her blanket in May 2016 when she attends one of their fundraisers. She looks forward to saying thank you, along with her child.
Williamson County & Cities Health District has four locations that offer prenatal moms help with Medicaid and Prenatal Dental Programs. Moms can call and schedule an appointment with one of the Program Navigators: Georgetown, 512-943-3640; Round Rock, 512-248-3257; Cedar Park, 512-260-4240; and Taylor, 512-238-2121.