By LINDA BEHRENS
Walking with Moms in Need is a nationwide, pastoral effort led by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to encourage increased outreach to pregnant and parenting mothers in need. With the support of their local bishop, parishes are asked to embark on a journey to place themselves in the shoes of a mother in need.
As part of this process, each parish is encouraged to complete a simple inventory of the resources currently available in their local area, assess these results and identify gaps, and plan and implement a parish response based on their findings.
The intent of this initiative is to increase support for pregnant and parenting mothers facing difficulties.
On March 25, 2020, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, the Church celebrated the 25th anniversary of the papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). This prophetic document reaffirmed the Church’s constant teaching on the value and inviolability of every human life. In that landmark encyclical, Pope St. John Paul II challenged the Church:
“With great openness and courage, we need to question how widespread is the culture of life today among individual Christians, families, groups and communities in our dioceses. With equal clarity and determination, we must identify the steps we are called to take in order to serve life in all its truth.” (EV 95)
Pope Francis has similarly challenged the Church to go to the margins and bring hope and help to those in need. He has repeatedly reminded us that our parishes are called to be “islands of mercy in the midst of a sea of indifference.”
Walking with Moms in Need is a response to both of these challenges.
Women facing challenging pregnancies, or who are parenting young children in difficult circumstances, should see the Church as a place where they can find help—especially with its extensive social services dedicated to meeting the needs of people in crisis.
But the Church must also honestly assess the pastoral and practical assistance that it currently provides to pregnant moms and families in need and how effective it is in communicating such help to those who need it most.
Everyone in a given parish community should know where to refer a pregnant woman in need. Walking with Moms in Need hopes to help parishes do just that.
Pregnancy Care Center: Serving the diocese
One such organization within the diocese that is serving pregnant and parenting mothers is the Pregnancy Care Center (PCC) in Belleville.
The Pregnancy Care Center is committed to the respect and dignity for life and enhancing the quality of human life by providing crisis intervention, support, guidance and education to persons in need.
“The founders attended a Right to Life Conference in Nebraska in 1982. A seed of an idea was planted, that there was a need for help for pregnant mothers in our area,” says Jill Lugge, president of Pregnancy Care Center and a volunteer at the center, and a parishioner at the Cathedral of St. Peter, Belleville.
After a search for a discreetand affordable location, they were offered a free office, pregnancy testing kits and phone service by St. Elizabeth Hospital in Belleville (now O’Fallon), which still supports the center today. Doors opened at the first location in 1983.
“We are a year away from our 40th year of operation,” Lugge says.
Lugge and Kay Bennett, the center’s director, speak fondly of Celeste Cocheba, who was the director of the center for some 30 years. Cocheba retired when she was in her 90s and is still living at age 103.
PCC serves any pregnant mother or family with children up to age 5 in need. No financial information or proof of residence are needed, but a newborn’s birth certificate may be required.
The center provides pregnancy testing, prenatal vitamins, and guidance to agencies that may further help them with needs, such as doctors; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); public aid; housing; and more.
“Newborns are given a large starter kit, which we call a layette, that provides anything needed in the first six weeks,” Lugge says.
After the first visit, mothers or fathers may come in once a month for diapers, wipes, clothing, shoes or baby equipment that had been donated.
Just prior to COVID-19, PCC started offering formula for babies up to age 1.
“In 2021, we started a car seat program in conjunction with sihf.org baby safety class,” Bennett says. “Mothers in need of a car seat who attend the safety class will be given a car seat by the PCC.”
Funds to support the car seat program were given to the PCC by Belleville Area Right to Life and the Cathedral Counsel of the Knights of Columbus.
“We are always looking for ways to grow and expand our outreach and support of mothers, fathers, newborn, infant and toddlers,” Bennett says.
Bennett is available to talk to groups about the center. Some groups have a “baby shower” to donate items to the center. High school students in need of service hours may volunteer at the center. Families can also make donations.
Some groups make blankets for the babies.
“Their joy is to make the blankets,” Lugge says. “Our joy is to give them to our moms.”
“Finances and products are available because of generous donations from individuals, churches, clubs and groups throughout the entire Illinois metropolitan community,” Bennett says.
“Many stores give us supplies, such as formula, diapers, wipes, clothing and other baby items,” Bennett says. “Things seem to appear as we need them.”
PCC has been and continues to be run by volunteers.
In addition to Lugge and Bennett, Gloria Schwartz is the secretary and the volunteer who has been there the longest. Besides normal secretarial duties, she sends thank you notes to donors and launders all of the used clothing that is donated. Lugge says Schwartz is in her 80s and puts all the rest of them to shame with her dedication and work ethic.
Donna Wall keeps the finances in order as the treasurer and purchases diapers and wipes for the center. Jane Tribout is a counselor, and Kathy Gundlach trains volunteers.
Lugge adds, from her heart, “If you keep your baby, we will help you.”