Christ Child Society chapters help children and families in need
By Eileen JevisStaff writer
Christmas is a long way off. However, the story of the birth of Christ is just one example of God’s love and grace for mankind. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). It is this passage that reminds us that our journey in life is often not an easy one and it encourages us to care for others and give freely to those in need.
Throughout the Syracuse Diocese there are many programs that serve the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. One such program is the nonprofit National Christ Child Society, with chapters in Binghamton, Utica and 43 other sites across the United States. Its mission is to provide books and layettes to impoverished children and families. It was founded in 1887 by Mary Virginia Merrick, who, inspired by her love of the Christ Child, made a commitment to serving children in need. She started the mission at the age of 16 when she gave a gift of handmade clothing to a family expecting a child at Christmas.
Rebecca Smayda, a parishioner at St. Mary of the Assumption in Binghamton, is the founder of the Christ Child Society Chapter in that region. Smayda has worked for the Broome County Department of Social Services for almost a decade and has witnessed firsthand the effects of extreme poverty. Smayda said the homeless population in the greater Binghamton area continues to rise. “Emergency housing is hard to obtain,” she said. As of October 2022, Broome County had run out of places for the homeless to stay.
“We receive reports that a mother has given birth to a baby, and they are homeless or don’t have stable housing,” explained Smayda. “I have been to homes where the children only have a mattress to sleep on or a blanket to cover them as they sleep on the floor.” The Binghamton chapter has partnered with Lourdes Hospital to provide layettes.
“The economic struggle is greater than the community knows it to be,” said Smayda. “Families are struggling to provide food for their families. They struggle to pay their rent and utilities. They don’t have the money to buy cleaning supplies, laundry supplies or clothing for their children.”
Cindy Kelly is the chapter president for the Christ Child Society in Utica. For 95 years, the chapter has made a significant difference in the community. Kelly and her team assemble and deliver layettes to the St. Luke’s Campus of the Mohawk Valley Health System. “Oftentimes, mothers have nothing to bring their babies home in and have no supplies at home for their newborns,” said Kelly. “The layettes we provide help mother and baby with what they need for their first week at home.”
Driven by faith, love and a desire to make a difference, the Utica chapter partners with several local organizations who support and serve the working poor and those living in poverty. The Emmaus House — a women’s domestic violence shelter — receives backpacks, hygiene products and school supplies for children who come to the shelter with nothing but the clothes they are wearing. The local chapter also provides diapers and other baby items to the Evelyn House — a joint transitional and rapid rehousing program for homeless girls ages 16-24 who are pregnant or are already parents.
The mission of the National Christ Child Society is to “challenge poverty one child at a time.” One of the most essential elements in tackling poverty is to improve literacy skills among children. Those left behind academically in early childhood will experience a long-lasting negative impact throughout adulthood.
One of the most significant programs of the National Christ Society is providing books to children. “Poverty can impede children’s ability to learn and contribute to social, emotional and behavioral problems,” explained Jeanette May, vice president of the national organization. Last year, the organization donated 47,000 books and 23,000 layettes throughout the U.S. They served 78,300 families and logged 416,000 volunteer hours. Binghamton has collected over 6,000 books that were distributed to local agencies such as Mom’s House in Johnson City, Saratoga Community Center and the Boys & Girls Club of Binghamton.
There is still much work to be done and the Society is looking for new members and hopes to establish new chapters in the Syracuse Diocese. “There are many ways to help,” said May. “We have a variety of programs that allow flexible participation.” Visit https://www.nationalchristchild.org/ to learn about the organization and call the national office at 301-881-2490 to learn how to start a chapter.
The Binghamton Chapter needs new members, volunteers and knitters or those who crochet or quilt or would like to organize a book drive. Call 607-953-0142 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Utica Chapter is also looking for individuals or groups who can knit or crochet; pack layettes, comfort bags and birthday bags; shop for projects; help with fundraisers; and maintain the Facebook page. Call 315-796-9602 or email email@example.com to find out how to help.