Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
There are numerous outreaches for the poor, the homeless, teenagers and those with addictions. At Calvary Presbyterian Church in St. Clairsville, OH, the congregation is embracing a different demographic with the hopes of making a difference in its community.
Every Thursday, the church opens its Little Kidz Kloset to provide necessities like diapers, wipes, clothing and even toys for newborns to age 5 in the area. It’s an outreach that is both unique and sorely needed.
“It’s to help young mothers who may be struggling with having a baby and how to take care of a baby,” said Beth Hahn, the coordinator of the program.
The Little Kidz Kloset spawned out of the state-sponsored Help Me Grow program, an agency that supported special needs children up to 3 years old with clothing and diapers. It had a storage room in the Calvary Church building, and when the program merged with another organization several years ago and vacated the building, Calvary Church wanted to keep this type of ministry going so it started its own outreach dedicated to supporting toddlers in the area. It’s a much-needed outreach.
“We went from being a depressed area to a booming area because of oil and gas development,” Beth explained. “We get a number of families coming into the area with the oil and gas. But because we lost of lot of industry in the Bellaire and Martins Ferry areas, we have a number of low-income folks.
“Our clientele is sometimes the low-income folks, but it also includes some income-producing families that are looking to maximize their dollars and also to help other people. We’re not just a giving organization, we’re a revolving door organization so that people can bring items to us and then we put them out for other families.”
Calvary Church’s Outreach and Evangelism Ministry helps oversee the Little Kidz Kloset, a group that is chaired by Heather Gordon, who is very supportive and an important part of this outreach.
Due to high demand, the Little Kidz Kloset does limit the number of diapers and wipes it hands out to each family on a given Thursday. Books are a popular item that are in stock. Stories with Christian values are available but it’s not something that’s heavily pushed at the Kloset. Things like stuffed animals, swing sets and cribs are sometimes available for pickup at the Kloset as well.
“It has a dual purpose,” Beth continued. “It’s a community within a community of younger parents who can share with each other. They don’t meet each other but they can bring items that their children have outgrown.”
A donation of formula samples from a local hospital was recently brought to the Kloset, but food is generally not available due to quickly expiring expiration dates. However, if the church’s food pantry gets some baby food donated to it, it will pass those items onto the Kloset for distribution. Some handmade goods can also be found from time to time at the Kloset.
“We have a quilter who rents a room in our building for a quilting group, and they make items like bibs and blankets that they give to the Little Kidz Kloset,” Beth added. “Another member in our church who loves to make little girls’ dresses will make those items. We really feel this is a community effort.”
The Kloset was originally open just one day a month, but when the pandemic hit, a local food pantry decreased its need for volunteers, leaving some with nowhere to serve. Some of those workers reached out to the Little Kidz Kloset to see if there were opportunities there to serve. With a new crop of workers available, it enabled the Kloset to expand its hours to weekly while also adding an evening time slot on the first Thursday of the month thanks to local Rotary members who have stepped up to fill that shift.
“There are two churches (Calvary and a local Methodist church) that bring volunteers, and the food pantry is run by the Council of Churches,” Beth said, noting the ecumenical partnerships that have been created through the Kloset.
The Kloset is also a training ground for Belco Works, a local agency geared to maximizing independence and success for people in the community. Belco uses the Kloset as a training opportunity for those looking to work in the retail business.
Like many outreaches, the Kloset is a two-way street, in that the recipients of the items are being blessed as well as the volunteers who keep the Kloset going.
“For the retired ladies, it’s a way they can remain involved in the life of the community and in the life of the church,” Beth said. “They feel like they are helping young families and that puts them in touch with young families. The people that come in, they build a relationship with them.”
The Matthew 19:14 scripture accompanies much of the publicity Calvary Church puts out when it advertises its Little Kidz Kloset, and that passage continues to be a focal point for Beth and those who volunteer to make this important ministry thrive.
“I was a teacher in another life,” she said. “One reason I was a teacher was because when I came to Jesus when I was 12, that (the Matthew 19:14 text) was one of the things that brought me there. It’s always been important to me, but I think for other people, it is a clarity for why we need to help these little children because Jesus values them.”