Cleveland Bishop Nelson Perez was the special guest at the Christ Child Society of Cleveland’s 66th annual Starlight Ball on Dec. 2 at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown. Betsy Kling, chief meteorologist at WKYC TV-3, was emcee.
The bishop told the 300 members and guests in attendance that he read the story of Mary Virginia Merrick, who founded the Christ Child Society in 1887 in Washington, D.C. Merrick, a woman of means, was an invalid for much of her life.
“She had an encounter with the Lord and was never the same,” the bishop said. “Even though she never walked again, she thought of a way to help. She began knitting and sewing from her bed. This all started with a dream that God planted in the heart of a little girl,” he said, adding, “Grace can make a perfect life out of a broken one.”
He recalled how Merrick began her work on behalf of children, saying, “Nothing is ever too much to do for a child.” The society continues to use that slogan for its charitable work. Merrick is on the path to sainthood and has been declared a Servant of God. “Hopefully, the Church will recognize her as a saint one day,” Bishop Perez said.
“We are blessed to have her vision alive in you,” he said to the Christ Child Society of Cleveland. The local group was founded in 1916 by Mabel Higgins Mattingly, a friend of Merrick. It was the fifth chapter founded within the national organization. Mattingly served as the first chapter president and organized a layette program, which the society continues.
Janie Nickodem, local president, said the Christ Child Society of Cleveland has served children in need in Greater Cleveland for more than 100 years. During the past fiscal year, more than 400 members volunteered more than 20,000 hours to address the needs of 6,000 children. Projects included packing and distribution of more than 12,000 layette bundles to newborns of low-income families. The society also distributed thousands of school uniforms and new winter coat, in addition to beds and pack ‘n plays so children can sleep safely. Also, more than 1,200 “My Stuff” bags are packed and distributed during the year for children in shelters and crisis centers. Volunteers also fund and staff two school libraries and provide volunteers for two preschool reading enrichment programs.
“You are becoming a ministry,” Kling told the society. “I am so glad to be back as your emcee.” Kling acknowledged the organization’s work on behalf of children and noted that there are only two part-time paid staff people, with nearly all funds raised being used to support the mission.
Nicodem said the Christ Child Society of Cleveland raises funds in four ways: the Starlight Ball, which generates about 75 percent of the fundraising efforts; the Showcase resale store at 15404 Madison Ave., Lakewood, which raises slightly more than 12 percent of its funds; the Red Wagon Luncheon, which raises slightly more than 12 percent of its funds and other ways and means activities.
This year’s Starlight Ball featured a silent auction, a $5,000 cash raffle, as well as raffles for a diamond bracelet and Tag Heuer watch donated by Marlen Jewelers of Rocky River.
Father Ralph Wiatrowski has served as group’s spiritual advisor for more than 30 years.
“By supporting the Christ Child Society, you are helping us to combat poverty one child at a time,” Nicodem said.