Baby Pantry Gives Lowell Kids a Positive Start on Life

It’s 5:30pm on a Monday afternoon, and a woman appears in the door with a toddler on her hip. The Baby Pantry of Lowell has just opened, and the woman is first in a stream of people who arrive to pick up a bag of baby basics.

Michele Misiak, director of the pantry, stands up and says hi to the woman whom she knows by name. “What could you use today?” she asks. Diapers and wipes is the answer. The toddler lunges for a basket of fruit snacks on the counter, and the mom pulls open a pack for her daughter to eat while she chats with Misiak about medical issues and family updates.

Tucked away at the end of a hall in the Flat River Outreach Mission building, the Baby Pantry of Lowell is quietly making a difference for about 80 local families each month. “Some come weekly, some come once a month,” Misiak says.

Regardless of how often they arrive, they are greeted with a smile and the promise of walking away with the basic necessities their children need to grow and thrive.

Michele Misiak, director of the Baby Pantry of Lowell, stands in front of the collection of clothes available to clients.

Serving Lowell for Nearly Two Decades

The Baby Pantry of Lowell started out as the St. Mary Pregnancy Center. Misiak, who has been director since 2011, estimates the center began 18-20 years ago. Its founder, the late Ruth Collar, was well-known for her tireless dedication to helping those facing unexpected pregnancies, even opening her home to young women in need of a place to stay.

When St. Mary’s Church sold its former school building about two years ago, the center relocated to the FROM building where it currently rents its space. The center also changed its name. “The Baby Pantry of Lowell describes more what we do,” Misiak says. “Our sweet spot is that zero to three years age [when kids are] in the diaper stage.”

While the Baby Pantry of Lowell will still provide pregnancy tests on request, the Alpha Family Center now largely fills that need in the community. Instead, the baby pantry focuses on handing out diapers, formula, wipes, baby food and clothing for infants and toddlers. “Last year, we gave out more than 15,000 diapers,” Misiak says.

One of the layettes waiting to be passed out to a new mom in Lowell.

Offering Families Support and Dignity

A volunteer approaches Misiak and says in a low voice, “She’s about to have a boy and has nothing,” she nods toward a pregnant woman sitting in the adjoining room. “Can we give her a layette?”

Misiak says yes and leads the way to a back storage room filled from floor to ceiling with diapers and other supplies. Along a ledge are overflowing laundry baskets. Each basket is fitted into a white kitchen-sized garage bag and has a baby toy peeking out the top. “These are our layettes,” she explains.

Inside, new parents will find a variety of items including a quilt, sleepers, diapers, wipes and a toy. There is also an outfit for parents to use when bringing their child home from the hospital. While much of what the pantry hands out, in terms of clothing and blankets, is gently used, everything in the layette is new.

“That’s important to me,” Misiak says. “Just because you are in need doesn’t mean you should only have used [things].” She wants every mom to have new clothes and blankets for her new baby.

Some of the food items available through the Baby Pantry of Lowell.

Funded Through Grants and Donations

Today, the Baby Pantry of Lowell is a stand-alone non-profit that is not affiliated with FROM or any church. It is also a 100 percent volunteer effort.

Misiak, as well as her dozen volunteers, all work for free. The group relies largely on donations from individuals and area churches. The Lowell Area Community Fund also awarded the group a $5,000 grant. Misiak adds that a generous local donor paid for half the pantry’s winter coat and boot program last year.

Perhaps surprisingly, clients of the Baby Pantry of Lowell are among the donors. One woman arrives with a Meijer bag full of baby food and other supplies that she hands off to a volunteer before picking up other items she could not afford. Another client walks in and hands Misiak a handful of formula coupons. Misiak notes that the women who arrive at her door are often generous and looking to help others as best they are able.

The Baby Pantry is a kid-friendly place where little ones can be occupied while their moms gather needed supplies.

“Hands and Feet of Jesus”

The people using the Baby Pantry of Lowell tend to be in their 20s and are a mix of single and married women. The pantry uses roughly the same eligibility criteria as FROM but also tries to help wherever it can.

“We believe we’re the hands and feet of Jesus,” Misiak says. And that means working with women to address problems even when they seem to go beyond the mission of the pantry. “When need arises, we will take care of them,” she notes.

The Baby Pantry of Lowell operates out of the FROM building (turn right at the entrance of the building and proceed to the last door facing the parking lot). Its hours are on Mondays from 5:30-7:30pm and Thursdays from 2-4:30pm. For more information or to see how you can help with a donation, visit the Baby Pantry of Lowell on Facebook.

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