In Bertha, new moms and dads receive special delivery

Categories: Around the Diocese

bertha

Connie Wenker, right, talks with Ruth and Andrew Freyholtz at their home in Bertha Oct. 12, explaining what is included in the meal she is delivering and how to prepare it. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

On Oct. 12 — a damp and breezy fall morning — Connie Wenker wound her way down a rural Bertha road to the home of Ruth and Andrew Freyholtz and their six children.

Wenker climbed the wooden stairs of their porch and knocked on the front door.

Despite the chill of the day, she was warmly received by four of the Freyholtz children as they scampered to greet her and peered curiously into the cardboard box she held in her hands. The oldest, Johnathan, 10, watched from the stairway and the newest, Anna, just eight days old, rested contentedly in her mother’s arms.

Inside the box was a prepared dish of poppy seed chicken, potatoes ready for baking, biscuits, corn that Wenker had frozen earlier in the season and chocolate pudding for dessert.

It’s just one of the 14 meals the Freyholtz family received as part of the Mommy Meals program that their parish, St. Joseph in Bertha, began about a year ago.

Family helping family

For years, members of the parish informally rallied around new mothers. But Kathryn Wagner, the parish secretary at St. Joseph’s, thought it could become a more organized effort.

“A few women of the parish had the idea and I just initiated it,” Wagner said. “We are trying to give the parents time with their baby during this very special and unique time. The hope is to give the mother time to recover and to give both parents time with baby and other children. We believe that by not having to worry about making a meal, it can free up their time to be able to savor these special moments.”

When a family has a baby, Wagner contacts the new mother and congratulates her. Then she sends out an email to the group’s members and gives them the news, asking for them to choose dates to prepare a meal for the family, generally filling a two-week span. Each member makes and delivers his or her own meal to the family.

There are about 13 active members of the Mommy Meals effort, including Wenker, who said she has delivered about six meals since the start of the program.

“In years past, mothers of the mother or father would come and stay with the new mom to help with things. Now families don’t always live close and there are so many things going on,” Wenker said. “I like the idea of giving and being there for others. As a parish, we are all family and help each other out.”

The Freyholtzes received 14 meals in all, including tacos, hot dishes and homemade wild rice soup. Ruth said they haven’t had two of the same thing yet. Andrew, who drives an hour each way to work in Alexandria in mechanical engineering design, appreciates the simplicity of the program.

“It’s not very complicated,” he said. “Kathy sends out the email, you sign up for a day and you bring a meal out.”

He also said he appreciates it because, even though he takes some time off to help Ruth, who is a stay-at-home mom, he isn’t much of a cook. “The kids get pretty tired of cold cereal,” he laughed.

Loving neighbors

More important, the couple agrees that this is a good way of welcoming the baby into the community. At times, they have received unfavorable responses when people find out they have six kids.

“This is the opposite of that,” Ruth said. “It’s a good way for our church to send out a counter-cultural message that we are happy to have new life in the church. It is also kind of a check up, too. If someone is having a hard time, you have somebody coming, someone cheerful, who asks you how you are doing. It’s just really nice.”

Wenker said for her, it is also a good way to get to know people better outside of the church. “Sometimes we’ve been going to church with them for years and never knew where they lived. It’s nice to get to know a little more about people.”

Father Matthew Crane, pastor of the parish, says it gives the community a “realizable identity outside of the parish building.”

“We need to remain focused on what the church truly is and always has been, the Body of Christ engaged in the threefold mission of preaching, teaching and sanctifying,” he said. “Pope Francis has pointed out that while this [involves] gathering in sacred spaces to worship and honor God, it also entails going out to the margins of our particular community.”

Wagner also believes that the program helps support the vocation of married life.

“We have a parish of many young families, and church has proven to be a place of fellowship and support for raising families,” she said. “We believe this is connecting us with our Catholic faith because, by doing this, we love God by helping our fellow neighbor.”