Gabriel Project of West Virginia Expands to Bancroft and Clendenin

By Martina Hart WEST VIRGINIA—The Women’s Guild of St. Patrick Mission in Bancroft always worked together in friendship and harmony. Late last year they decided to share their fellowship with the broader community and a year-round ministry by becoming a Gabriel church—part of the Charleston-based Metro Valley Chapter of the Gabriel Project of West Virginia. In February, parishioners came together to prepare a room in the church building as a storage area and to sort the donated items they had collected earlier during a baby shower. “We are the first Gabriel church in Putnam County,” said Vada Zitzelsberger, church coordinator at St. Patrick’s, a mission of Holy Trinity Parish in Nitro. The Metro Valley Chapter ministers to nine counties in the southwestern part of West Virginia. Gabriel churches are a vital part of its network because they provide storage facilities in different locations and volunteers who are in direct contact with clients. Other parishes throughout the area support their work with annual campaigns, such as diaper drives, jelly sales or collecting change in baby bottles. When Our Lady of the Hills Parish in Elkview held a Change for Babies fundraiser last year, members of St. Anne Mission in Clendenin were inspired to become a Gabriel church as well. Regina Barido, chapter coordinator of the Metro Valley Chapter, then held training sessions for volunteers, referred to as “angels.” The list of volunteer opportunities includes help with mailings and phone calls, meeting with clients and providing transportation, among other tasks. Peggy Fox, a member of St. Anne’s, coordinates the group in Clendenin. After a client contacts the church or the chapter office and needs are assessed, the woman or family is assigned to a Gabriel church where the coordinator assigns a Gabriel angel to help. While the organization’s focus is on helping pregnant women and families with small children (2 years old and younger), its outreach is not limited to these parameters and there are no eligibility requirements. “We have a lot of grandparents, guardians who take care of young children,” said Robin Thornburg, one of the volunteers at St. Anne’s. “Or, the dad is the one who contacts us.” If a family includes older children in need of clothes, for example, they will be helped as well. In the past seven months St. Anne’s has assisted 36 mothers or guardians and 44 children. The most-needed items are usually cribs and car safety seats. Working in rural areas has been a challenge for the ministry at St. Anne’s and St. Patrick’s. In an effort to inform their communities about the Gabriel Project, volunteers have contacted other area churches, put up flyers in public locations and had coverage in local newspapers. The ministry has also worked with other agencies. Volunteers from Clendenin occasionally meet halfway with workers from West Virginia Birth to Three and Right from the Start in Clay County to transport needed items to families in remote areas. In addition to tangible items, Gabriel angels also provide emotional and spiritual care, helping clients with anxieties and fears. Gabriel volunteers remain in contact with clients after initial needs are met and, oftentimes, mutual relationships are created. “I have a family who still sends me pictures,” said Gabriel angel Margie Swecker of St. Anne’s. She also said that this ministry is not limited to a handful of volunteers; instead, the whole family gets involved in helping, having a positive effect on their own children. Local businesses have been supportive and provide incentives for donors. “It’s a positive thing to be doing for pro-life,” said Franciscan Sister Kate Holohan, pastoral associate at St. Anne’s. Zitzelsberger added that it is uplifting to see how appreciative people are. Besides the two churches in Bancroft and Clendenin, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Logan has been a Gabriel church for several years. Barido may be contacted at 414-4666 or at 1-800-395-4357.