The numbers are telling.
In 2011, the Alpena County Baby Pantry distributed 27,519 diapers, 11,847 pieces of clothing, 3,697 food items and 1,229 books or toys to a total of 1,045 families and 1,469 children.
Started in May 2003, the all volunteer program helps fill the gap for families of young children who find themselves in need because of lowered incomes, emergency situations or other challenging life circumstances. Once a month, these families are able to come to the Baby Pantry, located at St. Bernard's Parish Center, and select clothing items as well as pick up baby food, diapers, wipes, bath products and even baby equipment as needed.
News Photo by Diane Speer
Alpena County Baby Pantry Coordinator Celeste Phillips arranges items of baby clothing in a room located at St. Bernard’s Parish Center. The Baby Pantry does giveaways of clothing and other necessities for families in need on the third Thursday of each month from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
"The program helps people stretch their dollars and fill the gaps," said Coordinator Celeste Phillips, who strives to make the space as pleasant and professional-like as possible. Toward that end, she places a high premium on the dignity and self-worth of those who use the Baby Pantry services.
"When families are financially challenged, I feel how they are treated is a high priority," Phillips said. "I want the clothes to be clean and displayed nicely, and I want them to have choices."
Though the program has been in existence for nearly nine years, this is the first time the Baby Pantry has been in short support of certain sizes of clothing and is therefore asking the public to come forward with donations. Needed are any good-condition items in sizes 2T and 3T.
All who benefit from the Baby Pantry are allowed to take whatever they feel they need for their children in sizes newborn up to 3T, though there is a limit of six pieces of clothing for a number of categories such as pants, sleepers and long-sleeved shirts. The clothing, mostly second hand, is all donated.
Other available products besides clothing are supplied either through donations of those items or else money is given or raised, which is then used to purchase necessities.
"We operate through donations and fundraisers," Phillips said. "The program has grown and serves many families. It is all locally supported. That's the main thing."
One of the surprising aspects of the program for Phillips is that around 80 percent of the families helped eventually turnaround and give back outgrown clothing items to the Baby Pantry.
"It's strictly spontaneous for them," she said. "They just have a real feeling of partnership with us. It's not something we ask of them or expect. It's just amazing because that was never part of the process."
The program originally was started and remains supported by the Alpena/Presque Isle Child Abuse and Neglect (CA/N) Team. Its mission is to help prevent child abuse and neglect by helping parents of infants and toddlers during some of their most stressful times. It is not the intent, said Phillips, to meet all of any family's needs relating to their infants and toddlers, but rather to supplement.
The Baby Pantry is open on the third Thursday of each month from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. During that time, volunteers from the community help families to acquire the items they need. Information about the services offered through the Baby Pantry is made available to all social services agencies in the area so that these agencies can get the word out to those families who might need the extra assistance.
The items distributed include everything from cribs and bassinets to bedding (sheets and blankets), strollers, high chairs, potty chairs, bottles, bath tubs and play equipment along with the clothing and other essentials such as formula, baby food, diapers and wipes.
Until the fall of 2005, the average number of families served on distribution days was 10-12. By the fall of 2006, that number had increased to 25-30, representing 30-40 children. In June of 2007, 40-45 families were requesting some level of help from the Baby Pantry.
Since the spring of 2009, the organization has been seeing 75-80 families on each open day with occasional spikes that are much higher.
For more information about the program, to volunteer or to make donations, contact Phillips at 356-9516.