St. Paul retirees find meaning helping mothers in need

| June 18, 2015 | 0 Comments
Margee Adrian and her husband, Denny, spend their retirement rescuing, refurbishing, delivering and even setting up baby equipment for needy families across the Twin Cities metro area. Bob Zyskowski/The Catholic Spirit

Margee Adrian and her husband, Denny, spend their retirement rescuing, refurbishing, delivering and even setting up baby equipment for needy families across the Twin Cities metro area. Bob Zyskowski/The Catholic Spirit

Margee Adrian remembers it was a very nice, heavy-duty baby crib, one that she guessed probably cost $1,000, that a man wanted to donate to the Highland LifeCare Center in St. Paul.

A volunteer there, she had to tell him no.

Due to liability issues with unsafe cribs and car seats that have been recalled, the pregnancy resource center was no longer accepting donations of cribs or car seats.

In fact, no one was. The man had been to three thrift stores, and none would take the crib.

“He said, ‘I guess I’ll just burn it,’?”Margee recalled. “I said, ‘Don’t do that. Put it in my van.’ ”

That was the first of more than 500 cribs that Margee and her husband, Denny, have rescued, refurbished, delivered and even set up for needy families all across the Twin Cities metro area since 2012, some 250 just in the past year.

“And car seats, too,” Margee said. “We give out as many of those as the cribs.”

Home re-purposed

Denny, 65, is a retired Minnesota state trooper.

Margee, 64, worked as a bank teller, classroom assistant and as a home day-care provider until she retired the same day Denny did.

They live in the West Seventh neighborhood in St. Paul, just three houses away from the Palace Avenue side door of St. Francis de Sales Church.

It’s the house they’ve lived in for all of the 46 years they been married. Once chock full as they raised their six children, now it’s chock full of all kinds of items that will be shared with pregnant women and families who have nowhere else to turn for the many things babies require.

There are cribs and bed springs and car seats on the Adrians’ front porch.

There are crib mattresses in the hallway, cribs in the TV room, a crib headboard in the living room.

There is a crib set and mattress in the computer room, a car seat in the kitchen and a back porch stuffed with cribs and car seats.

On the second floor there’s more of the same, plus crib sheets, baby blankets, mattress pads and bouncy seats.

But wait, there’s more.

Out in the one-car garage there are more crib sets, plus a changing table, extra rails and boxes of wheels and crib hardware — the spare parts Denny uses to make repairs.

“We don’t park our van in here,” Denny deadpanned.

Evident need

They find the cribs and other baby items at garage sales, thrift stores and on Craigslist.

“I’m a very good shopper,” Margee said without a hint of pride. “I’ll see a crib on Craigslist for $30 and I’ll talk them down to $20, and then when I tell them what we do with the cribs they’ll say, ‘Just take it.’?”

The Adrians also accept donated cribs and car seats, often from grandparents like themselves whose grandchildren have outgrown the items.

Once the Adrians gave away that first crib, word-of-mouth spread the news. Referrals come from social workers, nurses and hospital staff, the Missionaries of Charity and organizations like Bridging, Inc. and Birthright, Margee said.

Staff members at Joseph’s Coat, the St. Paul drop-in center, got so tired of repeating where needy people could get baby items that they had business-size cards printed that read “Baby Equipment” and list the Adrians’ contact information.

Margee flipped through some two dozen slips of paper with names and addresses of people on a prioritized waiting list.

“We’ll get a call from a nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital that a woman who has had a baby is leaving the hospital today and doesn’t have a car seat, so we run one down there,” Margee explained.

When they pick up a used item or one is donated, the first thing they do is clean it up. Margee will put the cover of a car seat through the wash; Denny will touch up a crib’s woodwork with stain or replace broken or missing parts.

Their living room is the test facility where Denny sets up cribs to make sure they are ready for use. “I want to be sure they are safe, something we would put our own grandkids in,” he said.

Pro-life purpose

For the Adrians, it’s all about being pro-life.

Margee and her daughter Denise Koontz started the pro-life committee at St. Francis, and Margee has chaired it ever since.

“We’re committed to the pro-life cause,” Denny said matter of factly, “and not just anti-abortion.

“When we started all this I wanted to help the poorest of the poor because it was a pro-life thing to me, to give a car seat and a crib to someone who needed it for their baby.”

Margee uses the word “ministry” to describe what they do.

She said,“For me it comes down to this: Are you going to ignore them, or are you going to do the things God wants you to do?”

Contagious concern

What has surprised the Adrians is how their actions have spurred others’ generosity.

Margee puts two crib sheets and a blanket in every crib they deliver. She’ll buy some things at thrift stores, but one woman sends her handmade baby quilts, another baby blankets and yet another sews baby bibs.

A man gave boxes of crib hardware to Denny.

A man who once slipped them a couple of twenties now is writing them increasingly larger checks, money Margee uses to purchase more baby items.

“It’s catching,” she said. “People want to be part of it.”

Denny would prefer to keep what they do low-key and small. He’d prefer to shun publicity, and he really isn’t looking for help.

He’s not mechanically inclined, he admitted, but now he knows a lot about all varieties of baby cribs. “I learned in my lifetime,” he said, “but I still have the Holy Spirit guiding me.”

Reciprocating gratitude

The Adrians get rewarded in at least two ways.

Margee pulled out thank you cards from grateful moms, including one with a handwritten note that said, “You are both angels!”

Some families insist they sit down and share the family’s meal, often one from a different culture. The Adrians said they’ve learned to accept those acts of gratitude, and doing so has helped them understand the many different immigrant groups that now call the metro area home.

“When you are immersed in another culture you can understand and be kind and love them even more,” Denny said. “It’s softened my heart.”

Denny recalled getting down on his knees to set up a crib for a family in Frogtown with two little boys whose father was in prison. He was surprised when one of the boys came up behind him, crawled on his back and hugged him.

“If you got the hugs and the tears of gratefulness we get,” he said, “you’d see why we do this. It’s a mission that just fell into our hands. I’m grateful to the Lord for putting it in front of us.”

Margee talked about seeing Jesus in every person she and Denny work with.

Once when they delivered a crib, a woman asked Margee if she was a Christian. “When I said yes, she said, ‘I could see the light of Jesus in your eyes.’?”

The Adrians are involved in other activities at St. Francis de Sales. Margee is a eucharistic minister and runs the games at the parish festival, among other things. Denny helps count the collection, which he dismisses as nothing much.

“Without getting mushy,” Denny said, “over the years I’ve become more faith-filled.

“I feel like the Lord’s been pouring graces on me, and I try to spread them around. I almost get guilty with all the personal satisfaction I get.”

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Category: Senior Living