October 19, 2018

Showing love like Jesus: Birthline provides pregnant women and mothers of infants ‘peace of mind’

Birthline volunteer Barbara Lemen, left, China Jones, middle, and Janeane Jones admire a hand-crocheted blanket for China’s 6-week-old son at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis on Oct. 10. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Birthline volunteer Barbara Lemen, left, China Jones, middle, and Janeane Jones admire a hand-crocheted blanket for China’s 6-week-old son at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis on Oct. 10. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Six-week-old Prince Harry Orion Jones cooed in the lap of his mother, China Jones. The infant was unaware of the gifts that surrounded him, but his mother was aware, and grateful.

“I definitely appreciate this ministry, because I didn’t know what to expect with a baby,” says Jones, 21. “The support is the best. The people here help with stuff I need and give me peace of mind.”

The ministry is Birthline, and the people are the many—but room for more—volunteers who keep the archdiocesan outreach going.

Birthline is housed at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis and resides under the umbrella of the archdiocesan Office of Human Life and Dignity. Through donated clothes, bottles, blankets, diapers and other items, it provides assistance to struggling pregnant women and mothers of infants.

(Related: Volunteers and donations needed for Birthline ministry)

Before Jones arrived, Birthline coordinator Jená Hartman scanned the list of women scheduled to come in that day.

“We’ve got a full schedule,” she says. “One [appointment] every 15 minutes, and today we’ve got someone signed up for each slot.”

Birthline is open on Mondays with 22 slots, and on Wednesdays with 26 slots. Even being open just two days a week, the ministry still served nearly 1,450 families last year.

The process began for Jones as it does for each person in need of assistance—with a call to the Birthline helpline. Calls are then routed to the home or cell phone of a volunteer, like Laura Petraits.

“We gather basic demographic and contact information, sizing of clothing and diapers,” says Petraits, a 34-year-old mother of two who works as a part-time nurse at St. Vincent Women’s Hospital in Indianapolis.

“We can help with babies a family already has or, if the mother is expecting, we can put together a layette that includes diapers and clothes and blankets. Birthline provides up to size 2T for kiddos. If they need a larger size, we have information we can share with them on where to go [for further assistance].

“We also have other items like strollers and toys that people donate that we can give out if we have them.”

Phone volunteers work a roughly four‑hour shift once about every other week to cover the helpline’s Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. schedule.

“That makes it easier to volunteer if you have kiddos,” says Petraits, a member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg. “It’s not like I need to find child care for them in order for me to volunteer.”

She even involves her 4- and 2-year‑old children, adopting the idea of another volunteer to “light a candle at the start of my volunteer time, and let the kids know that this is a sign of Jesus. And when the phone rings, [they’re to] look at the candle and be quiet, because we’re helping babies.”

Even though calls last only 5-15 minutes, “sometimes it’s hard for my kids to be quiet,” Petraits says with a laugh. “But in the end, I feel like God is helping us all learn a lesson.”

Using a networked computer program, helpline volunteers schedule an appointment for the mother to receive their items at the Catholic Center. They finish by reminding the mother to bring a referral from a doctor or social worker as proof of need.

Once at the Catholic Center, Jones, like all those who benefit from Birthline, was greeted and taken to the Birthline area by a volunteer, like Ryan or Chris Coglianese.

Greeting mothers is one of the many ways the father-son team helps the ministry. When asked what each does for Birthline, both men answer, “Whatever needs to be done.”

Hartman calls Chris, 58, her “God-sent handyman.” He spends most of his time fixing and cleaning the donated strollers, highchairs, bouncy seats, pack-and-plays and other items.

“I just like fixing things, I always have,” says the member of St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis.

Ryan, 24, and also a member of St. Christopher, cares for the donated toys, stocks shelves, sorts donations and does “the heavy lifting for Jená.”

But escorting mothers to and from the Birthline area is one of his favorite tasks.

“I just like knowing I’m helping people,” he says. “When I walk clients back out, they tell me they’re very happy, and that makes me feel good.”

Different volunteers have different tasks they prefer, says Trudy Powell, 70, of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

“Everyone does what suits them,” she says. “Some like to work with the clients, some like to pull outfits together from the donated clothes, some like to put the layettes together, some like to sew, knit or crochet blankets and baby clothes. I like to sort the clothes.

“There’s job security here, because the need and the donations never end,” she adds with a laugh.

In her 15 years volunteering for the ministry, Powell has a plethora of touching tales to tell. But one that sticks out to her is a woman who needed clothes for her 4-year-old.

When it comes to clothes, she says, “We don’t go over age 2. But one day, someone just happened to donate a bag of clothes for a 4-year-old.

“A mom came in and got stuff for her baby, and then she said, ‘I feel so bad because I don’t have anything for my 4-year-old.’ I said, ‘Have I got something for you!’

“God works in mysterious ways. We say we need something, and it shows up.”

And that’s how it worked for Jones. Holding her son and talking with volunteer Barbara Lemen, she offhandedly comments about something she needed, but had not been able find.

Lemen, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis, hurries out of the room then returns in a matter of seconds with a bag in her hands—it was exactly what Jones had been looking for.

Jones expresses her appreciation to Lemen with a compliment.

“I know you’ve been doing this all day,” she tells the volunteer. “There’s been so many people you’ve helped, and yet it seems like I’m the first one.”

The bags for Jones contain clothes to fit her son now, and in the weeks to come. And she can return to Birthline for up to three months.

“It’s exciting to know that I don’t have to worry about what I’ll do for the next three months,” says Jones. “They’ve got my back here.”

Jones has also benefited from the walk‑in breastfeeding clinic offered by Kathy McCoy, a nurse and certified lactation specialist. Though not part of Birthline, the two ministries work hand‑in-hand, says Hartman.

“Kathy told me her own story, and that really helped,” says Jones of McCoy, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis. “She told me not to give up, and that positive reinforcement is so good. I just want to do what’s best for my baby.”

As she talks, baby Prince Harry, has his eyes fixed on Lemen. A smile shines on her face as she beams down at him.

“Because the babies come back, I get to watch them grow,” says Lemen, 64. “It’s such a blessing!”

There is one final item all of the mothers receive: a rosary—handmade by a group of parishioners at St. Michael Parish in Greenfield—with instructions on how to pray the mysteries.

“Even if it is not their religious tradition, it is sharing ours,” says Hartman. “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.”

(For more information about Birthline, contact Jená Hartman by phone at 800‑382-9836, ext. 1433, 317-236‑1433, or e-mail jhartman@archindy.org. Struggling pregnant women or women with children up to age 2 can call Birthline at 317-635-4808.)


Related: Free breastfeeding clinic available weekly at Catholic Center in Indianapolis

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