Baby Banks help support pro-life ministries

By Michele Chan Santos
Senior Correspondent

By now most Catholics have probably already seen Baby Banks, the 3-by-3-inch cardboard boxes that were distributed after Masses in late September. 
For more than 10 years, parishes in the Diocese of Austin have distributed the Baby Banks, which help raise funds for pro-life activities during October, which is Respect Life month. The boxes are collected the last weekend in October.
Every year, the Baby Bank campaign generates about $40,000, said Marie Cehovin, director of the Office of Pro-Life Activities and Chaste Living for the Diocese of Austin.
Half of the funds collected via the Baby Banks goes to pro-life activities at the parish level, and the other half goes to the Beginning of Life Apostolates at the diocesan level – specifically, the Gabriel Project Ministry, Project Rachel, the Pro-life Help Line and Sidewalk Ministry.
The Baby Banks are returned both light (with a check inside) and heavy (stuffed with change often collected by children). Many religious education classes often have competitions to see how much money they can obtain for the banks. Some parishes give lapel pins (featuring tiny baby feet) to those turning in their donation boxes at the end of October.
Gabriel Project
Cehovin said one of the main focuses in the diocesan Pro-Life Office right now is getting more Gabriel Project ministries in the parishes. The mission of the Gabriel Project is to provide emotional, material and spiritual support for pregnant women and families in need.
Mary Helen Russell is the new pastoral care coordinator at the Office of Pro-Life Activities and Chaste Living. She oversees the Gabriel Project Ministry, Project Rachel, the Pro-life Help Line and Sidewalk Ministry.
While there are more than 125 parishes in the Diocese of Austin, only about 40 have their own Gabriel Project, Russell said. Having a Gabriel Project at a parish involves the display of a sign saying “Pregnant? Need Help? The Gabriel Project is here for you” in English and Spanish. The sign gives the number for a helpline: Call 1-877-WE-CARE2. Volunteers answering the helpline match each woman who calls with a volunteer “angel” in her area. The angels provide emotional, material and spiritual support for each woman. 
If she needs financial help, the Gabriel Project works with St. Vincent de Paul Society to help women pay their bills. If she needs a place to stay, the project works closely with Annunciation Maternity Home in Georgetown and Our Lady of the Angel Maternity Shelter in Temple. Annunciation, which has a charter school, offers long-term housing to pregnant minors with or without children. Our Lady of the Angel offers housing to pregnant women with or without children on a short-term basis.
The more Gabriel Projects there are spread across the diocese, the more likely it is that the helpline volunteer will have a volunteer “angel” to match with each person who calls, Russell said. The need for more Gabriel Projects is significant, particularly in rural areas.
Because of House Bill 2, the number of abortion clinics in Texas has dropped. The Office of Pro-life Activities anticipates an increase in demand for Gabriel Project services, thus the need for volunteers is greater than ever.
Russell is happy to travel to any parish to help train volunteers. The training sessions can take place on a Saturday or Sunday or during the week. 
“I can go anywhere in the diocese,” Russell said.
Many times, the 50 percent share of the money from the Baby Bank campaign is enough to cover the expenses of a parish Gabriel Project for a whole year, Cehovin said.
“I want to encourage parishes to have their own Gabriel Projects,” Cehovin said. “These projects make a difference –– a profound difference –– to women in these communities. Sometimes parishes think it will cost too much, or be too difficult. The Baby Bank campaign can fund you throughout the year, and we can train your volunteers.”
To learn more about the Baby Bank campaign or starting a parish Gabriel Project, contact Mary Helen Russell at (512) 949-2488 or maryhelen-russell@austindiocese.org. 

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