Christ Child Society of Dallas-Fort Worth challenges poverty one child at a time
FLOWER MOUND — When Patricia Gonzalez’s family moved to Flower Mound six years ago, she wanted to help children less fortunate, just as her mother did.
Her mother, Gerry Jackson, had already given her a blueprint through her involvement in California with Christ Child Society, a more than century-old ministry.
Gonzalez discovered that the National Christ Child Society, which has chapters in dozens of communities across the United States, had only two locations in Texas: the El Paso and Austin areas.
“Since there wasn’t a local chapter, I thought maybe I could bring it here,” said Gonzalez, the mother of four. “I said, ‘OK, let’s give it a try.’”
She chose to focus on two key areas: providing layettes for newborns and building literacy amongst children.
She made inquiries at her parish, St. Philip the Apostle in Lewisville, and found immediate interest.
Gonzalez connected with the national organization, based in the Washington, D.C., area, and was provided a starter kit.
She and her mother hosted their first meeting in the living room of her Flower Mound home in April 2018.
A handful of people with a desire to make an impact in the community attended.
“That was a sign of things to come,” Gonzalez said. “What hooked women from the start is they wanted something viable.” In spring 2018, the St. Philip ministry was incorporated in the State of Texas, and in November 2018, it received 501(c)(3) non-profit status.
Fast forward to the fall of 2019. The Christ Child Society of Dallas-Fort Worth became an approved apostolate of the Diocese of Fort Worth.
The chapter has grown to more than 35 members that Gonzalez said are generous, committed women of various backgrounds with one common goal: to better the lives of children in need in the community.
“Our reach and numbers have exceeded our expectations,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve been blessed to have so many circumstances come into place.”
Gonzalez said their mission reflects the goals of the national organization. “We are currently doing this through our literacy and layette programs, and we are researching additional projects to further carry out these goals,” she said.
The chapter relies primarily on the generosity of the community, with appeals made through efforts such as coffee-and-donut socials after morning Mass to baby showers to replenish its layette supplies.
Gonzalez said Father Ray McDaniel, pastor of St. Philip, has been an avid supporter and spiritual advisor since the beginning.
“I really like the spirit of service and concern for others in the community,” Fr. McDaniel said.
He said it also elicited interest from members of the parish who had not been involved in other ministries in the past.
“They have already an impact in our local area,” he said.
The ministry’s outreach includes reading to students at Central Elementary School in Lewisville to increase reading skills and comprehension.
“We read to them one-on-one and sometimes one-on-two,” said Gonzalez, adding that their volunteers include several retired teachers.
“I realized that some of these kids really struggle with reading,” the mother of four said.
Of her firsthand experience, she said, “I believe every minute [spent] reading can make a difference. Maybe we’re not making a huge impact every time, but we’re doing something.”
The local Christ Child Society also provides needy families with layettes that include clothing, linens, toiletries, diapers, and thermometers for a newborn child.
“We call it a baby shower in a bag,” Gonzalez said.
A favorite gift is hand-knitted baby hats and blankets made by members. The layettes are delivered to PediPlace in Lewisville, a non-profit pediatric clinic.
Response from staff about past donations has been enthusiastic.
One staffer said, “As a provider, I have been privileged to offer these gifts to our patients. Many times, I have seen an exhausted parent’s face light up to see someone has offered them these beautiful gifts. For me personally, it is part of the celebration of a new life. And as a Christian, it is an honor to pass them along in the name of Christ.”
The new chapter is proud of its heritage that began in the late 1800s.
Mary Virginia Merrick, known as a pioneer in American Catholic social reform, founded the National Christ Child Society.
Born to parents in the Washington, D.C., area who valued faith, education, and service, Merrick as a pre-teen wanted to devote herself to serving children in need, inspired by her love of the Christ Child.
Even when paralyzed and unable to sit without support as a result of a fall in her teens, Merrick never faltered in her determination to serve the poor. She started her mission of service at 16 with a gift of handmade clothing to an infant expected to a needy family at Christmas 1884.
When Merrick was 19, her parents died within a short time of each other, leaving her with the responsibility of caring for her six siblings. Despite her responsibilities, her pain, and her physical limitations, Merrick was fueled by her vision of seeing the Christ Child in every child — and treating each child accordingly.
She gathered her friends to help meet the significant needs of children in the area, formally establishing the Christ Child Society in 1887. She dedicated the next 68 years – until her death in 1955 at the age of 88 — to the leadership and expansion of the society.
“Her story inspires so many people,” Gonzalez said.
Today, the National Christ Child Society lists nearly 6,000 members in 46 communities across the United States, according to Moira Lynch, executive director of National Christ Child.
Statistics recently released for 2018 show their impact: 23,018 layettes donated; 46,950 books donated; 78,269 families served; and 416,613 volunteer hours served.
“Joining a chapter means joining a community that shares the love of children and the Christ Child — and making lifelong friends with whom you can improve children’s lives together,” she said.