The Office of Pro-Life Activities welcomed a new addition to its family of services to mothers and families in need with the opening of St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center's newest location on April 2. The former Infant of Prague School in Cheektowaga will serve as a sorting and distribution center for clothes, toys and other needs for wee ones.
"We're going to service families from here," explained Cheryl Zielen-Ersing, coordinator for the center. "It will give us some additional storage space as well, but it will definitely be an active center. We'll serve families from here. We'll have appointments. We'll also have volunteers coming here every week to help sort things and take care of incoming donations."
St. Gianna's now has locations in Niagara Falls, Olean and Fredonia run by volunteers, as well as the main center in downtown Buffalo, next to St. Joseph Cathedral, run by two full-time employees.
Father Ryszard Biernat, secretary for Bishop Richard J. Malone, filled in for the bishop and blessed the new center, located off of Cleveland Drive near the I-90. They prayed for the people who built the school and for those who will come through the doors seeking help with their babies.
"May all who come here know the presence of Christ, experience the joy of his friendship, and grow in His love," Father Biernat said before sprinkling holy water through out the room.
Cheryl Calire, director of Pro-Life Activities for the diocese, thanked the couple dozen volunteers who attended the opening.
"People often ask, 'What can I do?' First and foremost, please keep us in your prayers. Prayers are what has gotten us this far, I'm certain of it. And depending on what you are able, the biggest things you can do for us really is to spread the word that we are here and let people know that they can help, they can volunteer, they can knit blankets, they help with the pieces of our drapes that we need to get done. There's always a project," Calire said.
Volunteers and donations are the lifeblood of St. Gianna's.
"I got into it because I retired from being a school teacher on July 1. I just love my faith and my Church, and I was looking for something to do. A friend who volunteers down there invited me to go and I was hooked," explained Marie Chudoba, who began volunteering last summer.
Her main role is to sort clothes by age and sex to make outfits that parents can pick up.
"We'll take a 2-year-old boy top and 2-year-old boy pants and that matches. We'll roll it up and make little outfits for the kids," she said. "It's very fulfilling because you know you're taking what could have been discarded clothes and your are giving them to people who can't afford to buy things. There is a lot of camaraderie among the volunteers. We look at these clothes and we actually get excited. 'What a cute outfit. Let's put this together.' And we can just picture these little ones wearing these outfits."
The St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center is a pastoral outreach of the Office of Pro-Life Activities of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. The center follows the example of St. Gianna Molla, who placed her unborn daughter's life before her own, in respecting, protecting and cherishing all human life as a precious gift from God. The center provides material, emotional and spiritual support to mothers, fathers and families in need from pregnancy through the first years of life.
"The need is there, and, thankfully, you see the generosity of the people here," said Zielen-Ersing. "People are on board to help families in need. With all of the recent legislation that has been passed in New York that does not respect or honor life, it's important now more than ever that people are aware of these centers and that they know about the support that is out there for expectant moms and families in need."
Before assistance can be provided, a referral slip must be completed by a worker or mentor and submitted to Pro-LifeOffice@buffalodiocese.org, (fax) 716-847-2206 or mailed to 795 Main St. Buffalo, NY 14203. The family will be contacted for an appointment. Referral forms can be found at www.buffalodiocese.org/st-gianna-molla-center.