Volunteers at the Baby Bank in Granite City try to make Melissa Campbell and her two small daughters feel at home.
Topanga, 1, and Te’Niya, 2, play with toys or color with retiree Evart Baugher while their mom shops for diapers, toiletries, clothing and toys.
“I love kids, especially the little ones,” said Evart, 65, who formerly worked in grocery stores and a warehouse.
On a recent Friday, volunteer Rose Hawley took Melissa into a small room filled with racks of new or barely worn kids clothes and decorated in an ocean theme.
Melissa, 24, of Madison, found a few outfits but no girls’ panties that would work, so she grabbed a couple pairs of boys’ underwear.
“I don’t care if they’re boys,” she said. “(The girls) like Mickey Mouse and race cars, and nobody’s going to see them.”
Rose proudly handed Melissa a hair bow with purple, black and green ribbon. She had been saving it for the girls.
“We get to know what (clients) like or don’t like,” said Rose, 78, of Granite City, a retired bookkeeper for a motor company.
The Baby Bank is an outreach program of Clark Avenue Church of Christ. Parents of children 3 and under can shop for free with referrals from social-service agencies.
Volunteers turn the fellowship hall into a store on the second, fourth and fifth Fridays, spreading donated items on folding tables.
“We all think reading is very important, so we really promote the books and encourage kids to enjoy them,” said director Teri Allen, wife of pastor Mike Allen.
The church launched the program last summer because the aging congregation of about 75 people wanted to give back to the community.
They pondered several ideas, including a food pantry, but voted for the Baby Bank because of its emphasis on needy families with small children who often fall through the cracks.
“Most of us are grandparents,” said Evart’s wife, Katie Baugher, 70, a retired home health nurse and nursing-home cook.
Even church members in poor health can donate bottles or anti-bacterial wipes. Some make quilts at home.
“Everybody is very passionate about the Baby Bank,” said Teri, 53, of Maplewood, Mo., also a government river biologist. “Most people love little children.”
The church is trying to replenish supplies, so it’s holding a baby shower and open house from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, at the fellowship hall, 2130 Clark Ave.
People can bring any new or gently used items that could benefit infants or children 3 and under. Cash donations also are welcome.
“We can even use toothpaste and toothbrushes,” Teri said. “We just want to provide healthy things for healthy children.”
The Baby Bank has served about 60 families with 90 children. Referrals come from the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and other agencies.
Melissa has been a regular since the beginning. She and her fiance, Paul Youngbauer, have had a rough year paying bills and providing for the girls.
“Their dad has two jobs (pipe fitter and racetrack security guard),” said Melissa, a stay-at-home mom. “But he’s on minimum pay because he broke his hand, and he can’t do much.”
Melissa drives herself to the fellowship hall if her car is running. If not, she catches a ride with a Head Start caseworker.
While Melissa is shopping for clothes, volunteer Joyce Rogers bags her diapers, sippy cups, wipes and toiletries.
“I enjoy doing it,” said Joyce, 76, of Granite City, a homemaker with 10 children, 15 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. “I like other helping people.”
On her last visit, Melissa had Topanga in mind when she scooped up a pair of baby-doll-style shoes with pink sequins.
“She has to wear braces in the morning and at night, so she has to have a wider shoe,” Melissa said. “I’ll try them and see if they work. If they don’t, I’ll bring them back, and maybe someone else can use them.”
One of Teri’s goals is to treat Baby Bank clients with kindness and dignity. She doesn’t accept stained or damaged items.
Sometimes, volunteers hit sales at discount stores or find bargains at garage sales or thrift shops to give away.
“We’re a small church with a big heart,” Rose said. “Our congregation isn’t big, but when there’s a need, we try to serve it.”
At a glance
- What: Baby Bank baby shower
- When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15
- Where: Clark Avenue Church of Christ, 2130 Clark Ave. in Granite City (fellowship hall)
- Needed items: Clothing for ages 0 to 3, including coats, shoes, diapers, wipes, shampoo, toothpaste, lotion and other toiletries; children’s books, toys, blankets, bibs, sippy cups and other equipment and supplies
- Information: www.clarkavecoc.org or call 618-444-3077