Diapers. Tiny socks. Gently used strollers. See how one congregation is caring for moms, babies and families in need—in both body and soul—through a program called Swaddling Clothes.
“We don’t do Swaddling Clothes to gain members,” says Katie Fiene, the program’s director. “We run this program to do what Christians are supposed to do: help their neighbors.”
Swaddling Clothes was the brainchild of the members of River of Life Lutheran Church, Channahon, Ill., who wanted to care for those around them and were searching for the best way to do so. Their idea? Start a “program that gives clothing, diapers, wipes and other child-related items to families in need” at no cost, Fiene says. “Providing for little ones can be overwhelming. We like to offer whatever help we can. We are a reliable and stable resource for families when they need it.”
Swaddling Clothes is how this congregation is speaking up. By sharing their story through the #eyesoflife campaign, they are giving voice to what millions of others believe as well: that all life, from conception to natural death, is sacred, valued and a gift from God.
Although the program began three years ago, the congregation finally found a name for it after calling it “the mom store” for months. It was Katie’s husband, the Rev. Hans Fiene, who landed on the perfect name: Swaddling Clothes. It “brings us back to the Bible,” she says, recalling Luke 2:7, “And [she] wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger.”
“We provide clothing, shoes and other necessities that are needed to care for people’s children,” she explains. At designated times throughout each month, low-income families, single moms and others are able to shop a room full of goods in the church, taking diapers, formula, strollers and other gently-used donated items at no cost.
“There is something so comforting in looking at a swaddled baby,” Fiene notes, herself a mother of three young boys. “It makes you feel as though everything is going to be okay. We try to offer some of that comfort to families in need.”
Volunteers from the congregation do the bulk of the work, keeping the budget nearly non-existent for the church. “I am simply amazed at how giving and loving our congregation is,” Fiene says. “When my husband and I presented this program idea, there was no question or discussion. They just wanted to know how they could help. Three years later, the program is going strong and the congregational support is even stronger. I think when you hear the Gospel wonderfully proclaimed every time you enter church, you can’t help but want others to hear it too.”
Fiene has also been busy sharing the joy of Swaddling Clothes with other congregations, who have started their own versions of the program. She likes to remind people that caring for mothers, babies and families in need “doesn’t have to be a big production. The beauty of a program like this is that each congregation can customize this program to suit the resources of the congregation or needs of the community.”
“Doing something like Swaddling Clothes isn’t hard,” she reiterates. “It can be as big or as small as you need it to be. Action behind our words is a strong statement to our communities. Maybe Swaddling Clothes isn’t for you, but anything you can do to support life is greatly needed. The smallest thing can make the biggest difference in someone else’s life. It could literally be the difference between life and death.”
She’s seen it firsthand. As a result of the congregation’s care through Swaddling Clothes, “My husband was able to baptize five kids from one family on Christmas Eve a couple of years ago,” she recounts. “That was a pretty emotional and memorable event for the whole congregation.”
“There was also a woman who heard about us from the hospital,” she says. “The hospital actually called us up and asked if we had an infant car seat because this woman had given birth prematurely and didn’t have anything. My husband delivered a car seat to the hospital. All of the volunteers have been able to see this teeny tiny preemie grow into a beautiful, happy little girl. We look forward to seeing her, and her family, each month.”
Diapers. Baby wipes. Tiny socks. Onesies. One gift at a time, the saints at River of Life — alongside their pastor and his wife — are showing Christ’s mercy to those in need of His love and comfort. “When you know the names and faces of the families that these diapers will be given to, when you know their struggles and challenges, it reminds you of how God loves us individually,” Fiene notes, and still more, “how Christ’s salvation is a gift that is given to us individually too.”