COLLEGE POINT — It may be an overstatement to call them ‘holy strollers,’ but some parents in need of a way to transport their young ones consider them a godsend.
The Catholic chaplain at Kennedy Airport was recently informed by airport staff that dozens of baby strollers are being left behind at Terminal 4 — the international arrivals terminal — by travelers who forget to reclaim them once they’ve arrived.
This gave the chaplain, Father Chris Piasta, an idea: Why not donate the abandoned tot carriers to a charitable organization, The Bridge to Life, which in turn could give them to local parents in need?
“The airport folks called me and told me they had a lot of strollers and didn’t know what to do with them. They asked me if I would be willing to take them,” he said.
Sometimes passengers who store baby strollers on airplanes during flights to the U.S. forget to retrieve them when they land at JFK because the strollers are stored separate from luggage and it can take longer for them to reach the baggage claim area. The airport collects the abandoned strollers and stores them.
“I knew what I wanted to do with them,” Father Piasta said.
He called Francesca Yellico, executive director of The Bridge to Life, and offered to donate the strollers to the pro-life organization. For 30 years, the group has been helping women who are experiencing unexpected pregnancies by providing them with everything from counseling to medical referrals to blankets, baby clothing, toys — and now strollers.
Yellico readily accepted the offer. “Almost every mom that comes here, at one point or another, needs a stroller,” she said.
Father Piasta made a special delivery to The Bridge to Life headquarters in College Point, Queens on Monday, March 28. He brought as many strollers as could fit in his trunk — approximately 40 sets of wheels.
“And this is just from one terminal!” said Father Piasta, who is also the pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Jamaica, and serves as the Catholic pastor of LaGuardia Airport.
Staff members and volunteers from the organization helped him unload his van and carry the strollers inside. The strollers will be distributed on Wednesdays when clients visit the center.
Father Piasta had another surprise. The student Confirmation candidates at St. Joseph’s attached handwritten notes to each stroller. Along with their strollers, the parents will receive such life-affirming messages as “We’re praying for you and your baby.”
Yesenia Lopez, 30, who visited The Bridge to Life for the first time on Wednesday, March 30 and received a stroller for her two-year-old son, said she was grateful. “I feel blessed,” Lopez said in Spanish through an interpreter.
“I walk a lot and I take a lot of buses. The stroller is good to have,” added Lopez, a native of Colombia, who was especially happy she would no longer have to carry her son in her arms everywhere she takes him.
Jimmy Ilerin, 29, a widower from Haiti, came to The Bridge to Life for help and walked out with a stroller for his 23-month-old daughter, Fernanda Chloe. “I’m very happy, very grateful. It means a lot,” he said.
Ilerin, who speaks Creole, said through an interpreter that life has been hard since his wife, Freda Blaise, died of kidney cancer when their daughter was seven months old. His visit to The Bridge to Life and his receipt of the stroller lifted his spirits. “It is good to know there are people to help me,” he said.
Most likely, the strollers will be snapped up quickly, Yellico said. But even if they aren’t, there is room to store them. The Bridge to Life recently moved to a new, larger headquarters in an 8,000-square-foot former convent next door to St. Fidelis Church in College Point.
Father Piasta plans to make other “stroller runs” to the airport and bring the items back to The Bridge to Life, adding: “I can’t think of a better place for them.”
Yellico noted the serendipity of the donation. “It’s all related to travel. You go to the airport to travel and a lot of moms travel too — on public transportation. They don’t have a car where they can just jump in their car and drive to a doctor’s appointment. In order for them to do that, they need a stroller to bring their children with them,” she said.
Catherine Donohoe, president of the board of directors at The Bridge to Life, said the strollers will help both the families and the organization.
“It really gives them a spirit to know that somebody truly cares about them. And it allows us to give much needed supplies to our clients,” she said. “It’s a win-win.”