Angels in Disguise

Dec. 1-7, 2005
Angels in Disguise
Members of Christ Child Society have collected over 300 coats and 240 pairs of hand-knitted
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Christ Child Society Provides Assistance to Needy Children in Oneida County Area UTICA — Members of the Utica chapter of the Christ Child Society were doing what they do best on Nov. 17 — helping underprivileged children. That night, in the Seton Center of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, 30 volunteers matched up almost 300 coats, hats and mittens, preparing them for distribution to needy children in the Utica area. They were completing their annual Clothe–a-Child project in which they had personally knitted the hats and gloves that went along with the coats.

The Christ Child Society is a national organization that is devoted to caring for needy children. The organization was founded in 1887 by Mary Virginia Merrick in Washington, D.C. and currently has over 31 chapters throughout the U.S.

Paralyzed since childhood and confined to a wheelchair, Merrick decided to do what she could to help needy children. In 1884, when she was 16 years old, she organized a group of friends together with her sisters to make a layette for a poor family who was expecting a baby around Christmastime. The group delivered the layette to the baby, who was born on Christmas Day. This baby became the symbol of Merrick’s dedication to the poor.

The Utica chapter of the Christ Child Society has been in existence since 1927, when Msgr. Joseph May organized it as a result of his association with Merrick while he was a graduate student at Catholic University. Msgr. May admired her enthusiasm for and work with underprivileged children so much that he vowed he would begin a chapter of the Christ Child Society. Msgr. May was spiritual director of the Utica chapter of the Christ Child Society for 44 years until his death in 1971.

In 1928, the starting membership of the Utica chapter was 250 members. The members distributed clothing to poor children under the age of 16. They also donated to the blind through the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Today, the Utica chapter is comprised of 225 volunteers. The number of projects in which the Christ Child Society is involved has increased substantially to at least eight. Patricia Bennett is president of the group, having been involved in it for 20 years. She is also director of religious education and the parish business administrator at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Utica.

“It’s a very good society,” remarked Bennett. “Our members are from all age groups — three or four generations are represented in the group. They work very well together. I like to see the women work together. It’s definitely a rewarding experience — we all learn from one another. All the churches in the area are represented in the group. “We recently pulled together to provide underwear and socks for children at Hope House, a shelter for families who are being protected from abuse. When we heard that the children wouldn’t go to school because they didn’t have the proper clothes to wear, we donated what they needed.”

In addition to providing coats, hats and mittens for needy children at the recent Clothe-a-Child project, the Christ Child Society provides layettes to needy mothers through Catholic Charities. The layette consists of a hand- knitted sweater, bonnet, booties and an afghan. Also included in the layette are a “sleep ‘n play” outfit, undershirt, receiving blanket, Miraculous medal and a prayer card.

The Scholarship project is another way in which the Christ Child Society reaches out to help the underprivileged in the Utica community. The organization awards two scholarships totaling $4,000 annually to two students at Notre Dame Jr./Sr. High School in Utica. The residents of Catherine Luther Nursing Home benefit as well from the Society’s nursing home project. The group leads the residents through sing-a-longs and birthday celebrations on a year-round basis. Gifts are also given to the residents at Christmastime.

Through the Thea Bowman House project, on the last Tuesday of the month, birthday parties are held for the children in the Latchkey After-School Program who have birthdays that month. Gifts are provided for these children. Every Easter, members of the Christ Child Society fill between 100 to 200 Easter baskets and then distribute them to needy children in the Utica area through their Easter Basket project. The knitting project provides ongoing knitting instruction for members of the Christ Child Society. Through this project, members learn how to knit the hats, mittens, sweaters and blankets that are used in the Clothe-a-Child and layette projects.

The Christ Child Society also provides financial assistance to the Thea Bowman House, Special Olympics and Historic St. John’s Summer Program. Rose Moylan, a member for the last 25 years, is assistant treasurer for the Christ Child Society. Moylan joined the organization after hearing many positive things about it from her two aunts. “They always spoke so highly of it,” she said. “It’s a very nice group and I look forward to our meetings. I feel so needed.”

Rose Toukatly, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament Church in Utica, joined the Christ Child Society after her niece asked her to join. She’s been a member for just over one year. “I’m glad I joined,” said Toukatly. “I like to be of service to my community. When we donated the coats to the children, it was heartwarming. We’re always thinking of ways to make the children more comfortable and to meet their needs.”

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