Welcome, Baby!

Jane Hawes
Volunteers Joann Welch (left) and Debbie Perrin assemble items at St. Timothy Church for the layette program of the Christ Child Society.

For many mothers in central Ohio, nesting - that wonderful instinct to prepare a perfect home for a new baby - is a luxury that life has not afforded them.

They may be immigrants who just moved to Columbus with little more than the clothes they arrived wearing. They may be women who intended to work right up until delivery, but were put on bed rest. They may be victims of domestic violence who fled the homes where newborn supplies were left behind.

But every month, for the past 33 years, a dedicated group of volunteers does what it can to help prepare the nests that will nurture the babies these women deliver.

The layette program of the Christ Child Society is the cornerstone project of this faith-based organization. The national group dates from 1887, when a Washington, D.C. woman, Mary Merrick, rallied friends and family to make and distribute clothes for impoverished infants and children. The Columbus chapter of the organization, which now includes more than 40 chapters in 18 states, was founded in 1981.

Pat Reynolds has been involved with the Columbus chapter since 2006. And on a Monday morning in the middle of every month, she and about a dozen other women gather in the basement of St. Timothy Catholic Church's rectory in Upper Arlington to assemble the layettes that will be delivered to 17 hospitals and clinics throughout central Ohio.

By July, they have assembled 913 layettes for the year, putting them on target to create more than 1,800 in 2014. Each layette contains blankets made by the club members, onesies, sleepers, socks, a dozen diapers, a hardboard book and other basic supplies. Each package also contains a prayer card pledging that the women who assembled the layette will keep the child in their prayers.

"It's sort of unbelievable that we're touching so many people's lives," Reynolds said, as she stocked a workstation with supplies that would soon be sorted into bags.

Debbie Perrin, the current chairwoman of the layette program, had set up four workstations that morning.

"When I started doing it," Perrin said, "I was shocked to find out how many ladies are bringing their babies home with nothing. And 12 diapers is going to last, what, a day and a half?"

A Post-It note on the wall above each station stated "38 Girls" or "39 Boys." By 10 a.m., the powdery scent of diapers spiced the air. The project runs on about $44,000 per year, most of it raised by the club at various fundraisers.

Six-year-old Alanna Stewart, there that morning with her mother, Roberta, was in charge of putting stickers on blankets and stacking wipes.

"We're going to take these to the hospital for people who have babies," she explained.

"It's very rewarding," Reynolds said. "We get more out of it than we give."

But she and Perrin also confessed to curiosity about who will receive the layettes. Sometimes they receive thank-you notes that give them a glimpse into these women's lives. Occasionally the recipients participate in other programs the group sponsors, including a Kinder Women's Care Center and a daycare center at St. Stephens Community House.

But the vast majority of these bags, tagged with pink or blue strips of tape, disappear into lives about which they know little.

Sally Sexton is a licensed social worker in OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital's obstetrics department. She and her four colleagues place the layette orders each month with the Christ Child Society. Sexton gets to know the stories behind these orders, and she also gets to see the difference they make in these women's and babies' lives.

"When I bring the bag in," Sexton said, "it's like Christmas. When they find out that everything in it is brand new, they're thrilled and amazed."

The reasons for these families' needs are as unique as the babies themselves, Sexton said: There are the immigrants, the bed-ridden, the domestic-violence victims and many other women facing a wide range of economic challenges.

"It makes a big difference," Sexton said of receiving the layettes. "Many times they're shy about affirming they could use help. This adds a sense of security for going home and knowing they don't have to scramble to find the basics."