The centuries-old mission of Mary Virginia Merrick lives on in Akron, where a local chapter of the national organization she formed more than 125 years ago continues to serve children and their families.
“She believed in doing good works for children,” said Rita Rochford, a member of St. Vincent’s parish and president of the national movement’s local chapter, the Christ Child Society of Akron.
The organization’s roots hold true today. In 1884, Merrick assembled a group of women to sew layettes, or baby clothing and bedding materials, for needy mothers of newborn children. Rochford and other local women gather every couple of weeks to do the same.
The women spent an hour Tuesday night preparing layettes and stuffing baskets with essential newborn items and child safety literature for mothers of at-risk babies.
Most of the women have a personal and professional stake in helping children. Rochford is a magistrate in Summit County Juvenile Court. Joining her were current and retired teachers, social workers, Akron Children’s Hospital case workers, a former community liaison for Akron Public Schools and other child advocates. Membership totals 300 women, including a 101-year-old woman who knits dozens of baby hats for the layette program each month.
“We have one of the most diverse groups of women, youngest to oldest,” Rochford said.
The program launched locally in 1911 but soon was suspended — until 1957 — as the nation came together to support two world wars.
Before settling into a Cuyahoga Falls office and warehouse donated by the husband of a late chapter president, the program worked out of Akron schools or rented space.
The women pay $45 dues and the $126,000 program is funded mostly by donations, grants and proceeds from two fundraisers: a Christmas boutique in November and a reverse raffle each spring, the next to be held at St. George Church on Ridgewood Road in Akron on March 1.
The bulk of the budget is consumed by two charitable ventures, the $12,500 layette program — funded partially by a recent $2,000 grant from the Millennium Fund for Children — and a $75,000 clothing program for more than 1,800 children, most attending Akron schools.
Clothing purchases are coordinated by Rita Burkley, who finds no trouble packing a dimly lit room at the Cuyahoga Falls location with shirts, shoes, pants and coats.
“I usually spend it before the end of the school year,” Burkley said of the $75,000 in clothing, including 1,300 coats for needy children this year.
“She’s an excellent shopper,” Rochford said.
The stockpiling attempts to keep pace with the need.
Akron school counselors identify needy children, and the sisters of the charity provide. Local hospitals and pregnancy care centers match expecting mothers with layettes.
The program tackles other issues, like providing educational materials for young mothers and assuaging the sorrows of bereaved families. A full list of programming can be found online at the local chapter’s website, www.christchildsocietyakron.org/.
“That’s our motto,” Rochford said, reciting Merrick’s mission: “Nothing is ever too much to do for a child.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.