Catholic Charities baby pantries in Peoria, Streator providing help and hope
Stefanie Tarr can get emotional listening to the stories of parents she assists at the St. Gianna Baby Pantry in Peoria, one of two baby pantry outreaches in the Diocese of Peoria operated through Catholic Charities.
“I was a single parent of four kids,” said Tarr, formerly of Champaign and now living in Peoria. “They were ages 1, 3, 5 and 8 when I became single. It was really hard and the church provided for us a lot,” she added, citing St. Matthew Parish in Champaign as “our foundation” during those difficult days.
Her children now grown, Tarr recently was named coordinator of the baby pantry located in the Bessette Center, a Catholic Charities facility at 1825 N.E. Adams St. She also volunteers with other outreaches at the center, including a food pantry, furniture bank and a lunch kitchen.
“I want to be able to give what God has given me, what God provided for us,” she told The Catholic Post. “I want him to use me as an instrument. It’s nice to be able to help for once instead of receiving help all the time.”
SUPPORT AND HOPE
Offering help and providing hope is just what the Catholic Charities Baby Pantries provide to parents or guardians of children under the age of 3 who need assistance.
The other pantry is the Guardian Angel Outreach for Mothers in Streator, now located on the third floor of the OSF Center for Health at 111 Spring St.
“We have mostly lower income moms who don’t have a lot of support on their own, so we try to give that emotional support and physical supplies,” said Sharon Warfield, coordinator of the 17 volunteers at Guardian Angel Outreach.
While the baby pantry in Peoria is in its eighth year of operation, the Guardian Angel Outreach has been serving for two decades and is in its third location. It is chiefly supported by St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Streator.
Both baby pantries offer new or gently used clothing, diapers, formula, wipes and — when available — new car seats, strollers, playpens, and other baby supplies.
They also offer a listening ear and friendship, though this year of pandemic has limited in-person interaction.
“We do not have a counselor on staff, and we don’t claim to be counselors, but we’re all mothers and grandmothers,” said Warfield, a retired Catholic school principal who formerly guided St. Paul School in Odell and St. Mary School in Pontiac.
She described the typical clients as “mostly women who are not in a very stable relationship and may have multiple children,” though the babies’ fathers and grandparents sometimes are involved.
Tarr sees a variety of clients in Peoria.
“They’re not all single parents,” she said. “Some of them have had a hard time, especially during COVID. Maybe they’ve lost their jobs, had their hours cut, and they’re needing some extra help.”
PANDEMIC AFFECTS OUTREACH
The outreach of both baby pantries has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It has affected everything,” said Warfield. The Streator baby pantry closed from March 17 to June 12. Now clients can only go as far as the doors of the center’s diaper room or “free room” of clothing and supplies. A library of parenting books and children’s books is temporarily off limits.
Similarly, in Peoria the clients make their needs known and schedule an appointment to pick up a box of supplies assembled just for them. Those appointments may coincide with the operation of the Fulton Sheen Food Pantry at the Bessette Center, which offers a monthly box of groceries.
While the in-person interaction is now limited, Tarr said she is able to make personal connections over the phone.
“You hear the gratitude in the voices of the mothers who call,” she said, “that sigh of relief of ‘Oh, thank goodness we’ll have formula or diapers or clothes. There’s someone there for us.’ I know how that feels.”
HOW TO HELP
“The mission of the baby pantries is to support mothers and build the culture of love and life,” said Sister Michelle Fernandez, SCTJM, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Peoria. She thanked all volunteers and donors, especially Msgr. Philip Halfacre and the members of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Streator.
“During Advent, the season of preparation for that new encounter with Baby Jesus in our hearts, let us be moved to do an act of charity to promote the culture of love and life in order to make space for Baby Jesus to be born again in our hearts spiritually on Christmas Day,” she said.
The St. Gianna Baby Pantry at the Bessette Center in Peoria has 114 parents/guardians registered for 2020. New clients are being added monthly.
The pantry can always use new or gently used clothing for children ages infant to 3 years, diapers of all sizes, formula, bottles and wipes. Those seeking assistance or wishing to provide it may contact Stefanie Tarr, coordinator, at (309) 637-0288.
The Guardian Angel Outreach for Mothers in Streator assists up to 40 parents/guardians and is supported primarily by St. Michael the Archangel Parish and accepts similar donations. Call (815) 257-5520 for assistance or more information.
Monetary donations are always welcome at both sites so funds can be allocated as needed.