March 8, 2013

Birthline is beacon of light for low-income women, infants

Archdiocesan Birthline coordinator Jená Hartman examines infant clothing that is available to help new mothers and their babies who desperately need emergency assistance. (Photo by Mary Ann Garber)

Archdiocesan Birthline coordinator Jená Hartman examines infant clothing that is available to help new mothers and their babies who desperately need emergency assistance. (Photo by Mary Ann Garber)

By Mary Ann Garber (Special to The Criterion)

Babies without blankets, clothing, infant formula and diapers.

Mothers without enough income and family support to provide even basic needs for their newborns.

Archdiocesan Birthline coordinator Jená Hartman and a dedicated team of 43 phone and office volunteers are, sadly, accustomed to helping new mothers and their babies who desperately need emergency assistance.

And they are determined to provide as much free Birthline assistance as possible for these low-income women who thankfully chose life for their infants.

Birthline served about 345 clients last September, October and November, Hartman said, which is a typical quarterly number for the pro-life ministry dependent upon volunteer support and donations.

There is an urgent need now for diapers and other layette supplies, she said, to fill the shelves in the Birthline supply room at the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis.

Most needed are diapers for newborns up to size one as well as baby “onesies” in all sizes, sleepers for boys and girls in sizes 0 to 12 months, receiving blankets and maternity clothes.

With a new referral, a client can return in three months for baby clothing and diapers in larger sizes.

Patty Arthur, administrative assistant of the archdiocesan Office for Pro-Life Ministry, helps Hartman coordinate the life-saving ministry.

“Birthline is a service for pregnant women in crisis and young mothers who have recently given birth,” Arthur said. “Birthline volunteers also welcome new mothers who are in need of material assistance. … Each week, volunteers distribute layettes, maternity clothing and other material items to as many as 42 mothers and their babies who are in need.”

Referrals from social workers, state Women Infants and Children (WIC) Program staff members or other appropriate community service agencies are required for assistance, she said, and clients must make appointments in advance by telephone. Bilingual volunteers assist Spanish-speaking clients.

“Through a network of volunteers, pregnant women experiencing crisis pregnancies receive immediate assistance on the telephone,” Arthur said. “Trained telephone counselors take the time to talk to the women and comfort them in their distress, while at the same time encouraging them to choose life for their unborn children.”

Telephone hotline volunteers also refer the women to outside agencies, she said, that are better able to help them cope with financial, emotional and spiritual issues that need to be addressed during a crisis pregnancy.

“Being at the service of life is … a duty born of our awareness of being ‘God’s own people, that we may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light,’ ” Arthur said, quoting from Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical letter “The Gospel of Life” (#79).

For Hartman, a SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral parishioner, helping poor mothers and their babies through the Birthline ministry gives her many opportunities to serve the Blessed Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus in contemporary society throughout the year.

“A 16-year-old unwed mother, a very sweet girl, came in recently with her precious baby, only 4 weeks old, nestled to her heart,” she said. “The mother only had a receiving blanket for her baby and it was cold outside. We had a [winter] bunting in the layette that we prepared for her, and blankets and other warm things for her baby. The girl is living with her grandmother, and she was sincerely grateful.”

Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner Kathy McCoy of Indianapolis, a trained breast-feeding instructor, volunteers on Wednesday nights at the Catholic Center, Hartman said, to help mothers learn how to better feed their babies naturally.

“It is part of the networking that makes our ministry stronger because we have one more professional that adds a dimension that we couldn’t do here otherwise,” Hartman said. “I’m starting to network with social workers and different agencies throughout town about who we are, what we do and what our parameters are so they can recommend the right clients to us. We refer our clients to agencies that provide approved infant car seats, and also provide ‘pack and play’ beds through the Safe Sleep program.”

Several Knights of Columbus councils sponsor baby showers for Birthline and a few retail stores donate diapers on occasion, she said, but the need for layette supplies and diapers continues to grow due to challenging economic conditions.

Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ parishioner Vera Schopp of Indianapolis crochets about 50 baby blankets every year for Birthline clients, Hartman said, and is one of the pro-life ministry’s longtime volunteers.

“We always need receiving blankets,” she said. “We saw 24 clients in one day. We try to give one crocheted blanket and two receiving type blankets to every client. Multiply that number times Mondays and Wednesdays. We always need ‘onesies,’ bibs, diaper wipes and skin lotion, and new or gently used baby clothes.”

Clients also receive a handmade rosary and instructions on how to pray the mysteries.

“Even if it is not their religious tradition, it is sharing ours,” Hartman said. “… I tell them, ‘When Jesus came to the Earth, he was a baby just like your baby. All of his tears and hurts were on his mother’s heart just like they are on yours with your baby.’ … We show our love for Jesus by showing our love for our clients. It means the world to me that we can help them.”

(The archdiocesan Birthline telephone hotline number is 317-635-4808. The Spanish hotline number is 317-261-3387. Birthline donations can be delivered to the Catholic Center at 1400 N. Meridian St. in Indianapolis on Mondays and Wednesdays by calling 317-236-1433 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1433, for a drop-off time and other delivery information.)

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