(This is the second in a series of features on organizations supported by the Diocese’s Matthew 25 Collection to provide food, clothing and shelter to people in our communities. The collection will take place in parishes the weekend of Nov. 21. Visit www.hbgdiocese.org/m25 for information on how you can help support these local ministries.)
When finances get tight, Cody Stout and Danielle Spangle turn to the Carlisle Area Family Life Center for the material assistance they need for their baby. At the center, the young couple can receive diapers, wipes and formula free of charge.
“It’s not like we can’t buy these things on our own, but sometimes they’re hard to afford,” said Spangle.
It’s a harsh reality: “Buy food for the table, or buy diapers, wipes and formula,” she said. “Without this program, I don’t know where we would be.”
The Carlisle Area Family Life Center is a crisis pregnancy and resource center that provides material and emotional support to women and families. The center’s free and confidential services include pregnancy testing, limited ultrasounds, counseling, community referrals and maternity and baby clothing and supplies.
The center has been a mainstay of support for the Carlisle community and surrounding areas for more than 30 years. Founded in 1979 as a Birthright chapter at the behest of the late Father Andrew Fontanella, a former pastor of nearby St. Patrick Parish, the center continues to operate as a life-affirming ministry supporting women, families and children.
Matthew 25 Grant Recipient
The Carlisle Area Family Life Center is among 32 parish-supported ministries that received a grant earlier this year from the Diocese’s annual Matthew 25 Collection. The collection, which will take place in parishes the weekend of Nov. 21, supports efforts that provide food, clothing and shelter to people in our communities.
Seventy-five percent of the money contributed to the Matthew 25 Collection is distributed through grants to parish-supported ministries. Twenty-five percent of the collection is given back to the parishes for their support of people in need.
The grant awarded to the Carlisle Area Family Life Center will support the center’s “Baskets for Babies” program, which provides expectant mothers and families with a large basket filled with supplies such as clothing, blankets and diaper bags filled with diapers and bottles.
“The Baskets for Babies program began in 1998 when the volunteers at the center realized that many of the women and families coming here didn’t have the resources – financially or emotionally – to take care of their children. Many were receiving government assistance, but you can’t use that to buy clothing and diapers,” said Jackie Philips, the center’s director.
Since 1998, the center has distributed more than 1,270 baskets. Last year, the center gave out 91 baskets, a number that Philips projects the center will surpass this year, as more families struggle to make ends meet during the pandemic.
“Some of the items for the baskets are donated by churches and individuals, but oftentimes we have to make up the difference. That’s where the money from the Matthew 25 grant comes in,” Philips said. “It costs about $100 to put one of these baskets together, so the money from the grant really helps us make ends meet.”
She said the baskets are a tangible item that the center can offer a pregnant woman, especially one who is considering abortion. The center stands ready to support both the woman and her child.
“We can show her a basket and say, ‘If you give your child life and choose to parent them, we can give you all the basic supplies you’ll need for your baby, and we’ll help you take care of him or her, with diapers twice a month and formula when you need it, along with clothing and other items,’” she said.
“We want to show the families that we are here for them,” she remarked.
Joann Centenera has been volunteering at the center for the past 12 years. She said she cried the first time she walked into the supply room and saw the stacks of diapers and stocks of formula.
The idea that families struggled to buy basic supplies for their babies brought her to tears.
“It just hit me that these were things most people take for granted, and there are people out there who don’t have these basics readily available to them,” Centenera said.
She said it’s rewarding to serve with a program that directly helps people in her community. In addition to distributing maternity and infant supplies, the Carlisle Area Family Life Center offers community referrals and resources, sharing with clients a three-page list of partners in the community.
“To be able to put that information into the hands of the people who need it, for me, is an added reward of volunteering,” Centenera said. “We are empowering them. By giving them information, they can make the decisions for what they need in their lives.”
“Empowerment” is an important word at the center. Staff and volunteers understand that it’s not always easy for their clients to ask for help.
“We do see a fair share of moms who are reluctant to ask, because they don’t want to feel like they’re needy,” Centenera said. “But we always reassure them, ‘This is what we’re here for. Don’t ever feel like you’re being a burden.’”
The center is non-denominational, and assists anyone seeking pregnancy resources.
“We try to reassure them and let them know we can help,” said Cindy Cervi, associate director. “Sometimes especially the men will say, ‘I should be taking care of my family. I can’t believe we’re here for help.’ We tell them, ‘This is what we’re here for, and maybe you can pass that help on. If you see someone else who needs help later, maybe some of the clothes we give you today, you can give to someone in need when your child outgrows them.’”
“It is a great privilege and a great honor to serve our clients,” Cervi said. She recounted instances of abortion-minded women who changed their minds after seeing their ultrasound, of maternity wear provided for pregnant women outgrowing their clothes, and of referrals given to young couples in need of housing.
“We are welcoming and non-judgmental when they walk in these doors. We are here to serve them, to bless them and to encourage them on their journey of parenting,” Cervi said.
Stout and Spangle said they have witnessed the caring and non-judgmental welcome first-hand.
“The staff here is amazing, and very helpful,” Stout said.
“I think they are some of the most wonderful people,” Spangle said of the staff and volunteers. “They are kind and helpful. They never make anyone feel uncomfortable for needing help, or asking for help.”
(Learn more about the Carlisle Area Family Life Center at https://carlisleareafamilylifecenter.org/.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness