Aug 122009

Shelly Huiskamp, right, president of the Quad-City chapter of the Christ Child Society, gives Vicki Tyler, executive director of the Women’s Choice Center, some mini layettes. The Christ Child Society makes layettes for the Bettendorf pro-life center and does other activities to benefit babies and small children.

By Anne Marie Amacher

“Nothing is ever too much to do for a child.” That quotation sums up the life’s work of Mary Virginia Merrick, who founded Christ Child Society in 1887.

The Quad-City chapter, which began in 2005 and became a full, national charter in late 2008, is looking to expand on both sides of the Mississippi River.

Merrick, a Catholic who grew up in Washington, D.C., as a young girl assisted her mother on visits to homes of the disadvantaged, according to the National Christ Child Society Web site.  In her teen years, Merrick fell from a window and was paralyzed. Despite her disability, she continued to serve poor children and formed the Christ Child Society. Several U.S. chapters existed when she died in 1955, now there are 40.

During presentations July 29-30 at the Women’s Choice Center in Bettendorf, members of the national and local society talked about their mission to continue Merrick’s work.

Mary Graves of Cleveland, president, and Maureen Wesley of Detroit, treasurer of the National Christ Child Society, shared a video about Merrick’s work.

The society’s chapters perform a variety of services, from distributing layettes and offering mentoring to providing after-care programs and hosting parenting classes.

Their inspiration is Merrick who, despite physical limitations, still held children in her arms until her death.

Graves and Wesley hope Merrick will be canonized a saint some day. In 2003, she was declared a servant of God, which is an early step toward that process.

“Even if she is not made a saint, we hope to draw attention to her works and continue to increase the services offered for children,” Wesley said.

The Quad-City chapter offers a variety of services. It makes mini layettes for women who receive a positive pregnancy test at the Women’s Choice Center, a pro-life facility. The mini layette includes an outfit, diaper, blanket and booties.

 “We want the women to realize that they (are carrying) a living, human being” said Shelly Huiskamp, the Quad-City chapter’s president.

Women who continue their pregnancies receive a large layette of five outfits, “onesies,” three blankets, two socks, two hats, diapers and wipes at baby showers the center holds quarterly.

Women who give birth at Trinity Medical Center in Moline, Ill., who are deemed to be in need by staff, also receive large layettes.

Large layettes also have been created for premature babies. Last year the chapter distributed 24.  And a bereavement layette has been created for women whose babies died at birth or shortly afterward. Eighteen such layettes were donated last year.

Altogether last year, the Quad-City chapter distributed 9,440 diapers, 280 packages of wipes, 800 sleepers and socks and 1,080 blankets, Huiskamp said.

At a first birthday party, the children receive a winter coat, hat, mittens and toy.

The chapter also offers a parents group, which meets monthly at the Women’s Choice Center. The educational program for moms and dads features a talk, light dinner and activities for children. Some topics have included discipline, feeding tips and safety.

The society meets for Mass the third Saturday of the month at 8:30 a.m. at Sacred Heart Church in Moline, Ill. Special intentions are prayed for expectant mothers. Following Mass, society members meet at St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island, Ill., for breakfast and to assemble layettes.

“We are funded solely by donations,” Huiskamp said, which come from a variety of sources. Some parishes hold a fundraising drive in which baby bottles are distributed for families to collect change for donation to Christ Child Society. Other parishes hold baby showers, spiritually adopt an unborn child or collect money for the society’s works.

The Christ Child Society board meets monthly. There are two or three get-togethers per year for members, but no regular meetings. Instead, members do service and other activities to raise money and assist the society.

Membership is $30 for active members and $40 for non active members.

A yard and plant sale will be held Sept. 10-11 to help offset costs for the society’s president and vice-president to attend the national conference in Washington, D.C.

About 30 people are members of the Quad-City chapter. Huiskamp said the chapter’s goal is to have at least one representative for every parish reporting on their activities.

For more information on the National Christ Child Society, visit its Web site at

For more information or to join the Quad-City chapter, contact Huiskamp at (309) 786-8624 or e-mail

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