STURGEON BAY — The handwritten note was scrawled across a folded piece of plain white paper.
“Thank you for the $100 gift card,” the message said. “I never went school shopping in my whole entire life and I’m 13.”
The young teen was but one of a long list of children who have been helped by the Christ Child Society of Door County in its 20-year existence through its layette program, one-on-one program, back-to-school aid, bereavement sets and shaken-baby classes.
On Dec. 8, the society will invite children to help children by holding its annual “Shower of Love” at the 8:20 a.m. St. John Bosco School Mass at Corpus Christi Church.
Donations of new baby clothes, blankets, diapers or other infant needs are brought to this Mass by the students, society members and other adults in attendance. Those who can’t make the Mass can drop off the items at the parish offices of any of the Door County Catholic churches.
“I work two jobs and my husband is on disability. It’s nice to know that people understand that it’s not easy making ends meet,” wrote a young mother in another of the notes that have been saved through the years.
Those little tokens of gratitude are the payback, according to Sarah Anschutz of SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Institute. She is the society’s treasurer. Anschutz, as well as chairman Linda Soukup of Holy Name of Mary Parish in Maplewood and secretary June Nirschl of Stella Maris Parish in Sister Bay, met at Stella Maris in Jacksonport to talk about the society and its dedication to children and young families.
It was Mary Virginia Merrick, a teenager who, despite being confined to a wheel chair, established the Christ Child organization more than 100 years ago, after she learned of a child born on Christmas Day to a needy family. She set about sewing layette items for the baby.
When she enlisted friends and family to give assistance to other poor infants and children, the Christ Child Society was born. The Door County chapter was established in 1996 through the efforts of Helen Frings of Jacksonport and is open to people of all faiths.
Members keep busy sewing quilts, knitting caps, booties and afghans, and raising the funds to purchase other items for the layettes they assemble. They work with the social worker at Ministry Door County Memorial Hospital in Sturgeon Bay.
“I get calls from them when there’s a need for a layette,” Anschutz said. “Usually it’s a single mother, and most of them have nothing waiting for that new baby.”
Each layette contains an afghan, sleepers, onesies, a toy, book, bottle, diapers, socks or booties if they have them on hand and any other clothing available, enough to last about three days.
“We bring six at a time to the hospital, for boys and girls,” Anschutz said. “They usually give out 40 or 50 a year.”
Each layette also includes a stamped, self-addressed postcard. Nirschl said they get about one-third back.
“Sometimes there will be a letter of thanks from a father,” Nirschl said.
The one-on-one program addresses specific needs they hear about from a public health nurse or family services worker — such as a crib or baby carrier. The society assembled back-to-school packs each year until Altrusa International, a nonprofit organization focused on community service, took over that service in Door County. Occasionally, however, someone misses the application deadline, and the Christ Child Society steps in.
“This year, we gave out 12 gift certificates,” Soukup said.
Shaken baby classes are one of the newer Christ Child Society offerings to raise awareness of the damage that can be done when shaking an infant in frustration, or even throwing them up in the air in play.
“It’s really important to reach teens who are about to enter the world of babysitting,” Nirschl said. “When we speak in the high school classrooms, and show our video, the kids are just enrapt.”
Society members teach at babysitting classes and provide brochures and other material to the hospital for its pre-natal classes.
A storage room in the Jacksonport parish center holds the baby items the society has collected, and is the site where they gather to assemble layettes. Some of the 40 to 45 members recently gathered to celebrate founder Merrick’s 150th birthday by sewing 60 burp cloths in one day.
However, Soukup, Anschutz and Nirschl all remember when the Door County chapter was just a fledgling group.
“We were poor,” Soukup said. “We wanted to help, but we had nothing.”
Now they sell brats in Valmy twice a week during the summer, solicit donations in church bulletins, pay their yearly dues and have been lucky enough to get $500 grants from the area’s Women’s Fund. In the last two years they have also received donations totalling $500 from individuals.
“One of our past presidents even left something to us in her estate when she died,” Nirschl said.
The work is done anonymously, but Soukup said she once saw a young mother enter a store with her baby wrapped in a blanket that Soukup had made.
“That gave me such a warm feeling,” she said.
For more information about the Christ Child Society of Door County or the Shower of Love, call Sarah at (920) 743-6087 or Kathy at (920) 495-5857.