In February, the St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center will be holding its fifth-annual benefit banquet to raise money to buy needed supplies for women it serves who are in need of baby supplies. The banquet will be held at 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 11, at Classics V on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst. The keynote speaker will be Jacquie Stalnaker of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign.
Stalnaker, a former Miss West Virginia who now lives in Alabama, had a boyfriend who forced her into having an abortion 27 years ago and then abandoned her.
Today, she is active with Silent No More, a collaboration of Priests for Life and Anglicans for Life and a campaign for Christians who have had negative experiences with abortion to make their stories public and give testimony.
Bishop Richard J. Malone will be present at the banquet and will be delivering the event's opening remarks.
Cheryl Calire, director of the diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities, said she met Stalnaker at a March for Life and invited her to be the guest speaker at the St. Gianna Center banquet.
"They actively come to meetings and other things throughout the year, besides the March for Life, to represent women who have had abortions in the past, to stand up for women, to let people know that they regret their decision," Calire said. "She has been very effective in her presentations in regards to her own personal story. She was invited to our breakfast a couple of years ago. She spoke briefly, along with some of the other women who were there, but it was so moving that people requested she actually come."
Stalnaker said she became a regional coordinator with the campaign almost eight years ago after going to Rachel's Vineyard, a Catholic weekend retreat for women who have had abortions.
Additionally, Stalnaker works with Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ, and his Ignatius Productions.
"I've been doing some volunteer lobbying, both in Alabama and in Washington. It just makes it easier for me to take the entire state," Stalnaker said. "It's an amazing community of women, where you have camaraderie. You felt that the world was going to judge you and that your life was never going to be okay. Although our lives are changed forever, there's an element of beauty that you're able to honor your children in a way that you've never been able to do, whereas before you felt shame and embarrassment."
At the St. Gianna Molla Center Banquet, Calire said the Office of Pro-Life Activities plans to talk about the St. Gianna Molla Center's two new satellite locations. These are located at the St. Hedwig's rectory in Dunkirk and at the Divine Mercy Parish school building in Niagara Falls. Each year, the banquet helps pay for some larger expenses the center must buy since everything is paid for via donations.
"Because of state and federal regulations, we need to purchase car seats and pack-and-plays," Calire explained. "The majority of the funds that we receive go toward purchasing those items, so that we can be sure of two things: that we're bringing life into the world, but the baby has a safe place to sleep, so those are approved, and also, with the car seats as well, that they have safe transportation."
According to Calire, the average woman the St. Gianna Molla Center helps is in her 20s and has had some form of college education, and she usually comes because of a "chain of circumstances that has caused her to have what I call the X-factor, where she's making a choice about bringing life into the world based on finances a lot of the time," Calire said.
Her experience has run contrary to stereotypes about people who are seeking help being uneducated or lazy, which she said are false and judgmental.
"Many of the people we help are probably people that are sitting next to you in the pews in church," added Calire. "Regardless of your faith, we serve people of all faiths and people of no faith. What we have found is that what you might think is the average person that would be utilizing our service, might not fit that profile. There are so many people that are in need, for so many reasons right now."
Between the economy, employment overall, the ability for them to get good childcare and be able to work, there are many unique circumstances that bring women to the St. Gianna Molla Center. Its goal is to support a decision to not merely encourage births, but help after the baby is born.
Calire recognized that in many cases, people do not want abortion to happen, but then do little to mitigate the circumstances that lead to women feeling as though they have no other choice aside from having an abortion.
Stalnaker said in some circumstances women may not want to talk about their experiences, since this medical and personal information is confidential.
The Silent No More Campaign is made up of a wide variety of backgrounds, and in addition to Priests for Life and clergy such as Father Frank Pavone, there are national spokespeople such as Julia Holcomb.
While Stalnaker and Holcomb have been vocal in sharing their stories, Stalnaker said women do not have to publicly talk about private matters.
"That's something that Silent No More provides, too. There are things that are highly confidential, and everyone understands that. You could have a gathering of people just to have tea, or get together," Stalnaker said. "It's certainly been a miraculous thing in my life, and it's been a lot of fun, too. I've met some of the most amazing women I've ever met in my life, and I have friends all over the country because of it."
In addition to Stalnaker's presentation, there will be live testimonials from women who have received services and support from the St. Gianna Molla Center, live music by David Calire and Bobby Militello, gift basket and 50/50 raffles and a cash bar.
For more information contact the diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities at 716-847-2205.