|12/28/2017 9:00:00 AM|
ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST, SCHENECTADY
Foster kids now shop for clothes
in what was once a church rectory
BY EMILY BENSONIn the former St. John the Evangelist parish rectory in Schenectady, a giant stuffed polar bear, a tiny white kitchen set and a pink doll stroller sit peacefully.
A child-sized table is stationed in the center of the room. White mugs with bright red handles atop it seem eager for their next tea party or birthday celebration.
The toys are all part of the Quest for Grace Foundation, a not-for-profit that provides free clothing, toys and baby items for local foster children.
Michele and Louis Ianniello established the Quest for Grace Foundation back in 2005. In November 2016, having lost the space it was using in Schenectady, the organization moved into what had been St. John's rectory.
The Ianniellos have been foster parents for four children. Their last, Julia Grace, was the inspiration behind the Quest for Grace Foundation. Mrs. Ianniello wanted to take a break from fostering and, instead, do something to help the better the foster care system.
Need for attire
When foster children are placed with a family, "nine times out of 10, they just have the clothing on their backs," Mrs. Ianniello told The Evangelist.
What began with her collecting clothing in her garage for foster kids in need expanded into the foundation, which now helps more than 1,000 local foster children a year. Quest for Grace is essentially a store where foster kids can shop for clothing and other items for free.
"If I didn't have people coming in to help me, I wouldn't be able to help. It's a team effort," Mrs. Ianniello noted.
Ten years after founding Quest for Grace, the Ianniellos learned that the space the organization was using on Erie Boulevard was going to be utilized by the Rivers Casino and Resort for employee training.
Mrs. Ianniello was at a loss: Where would the foundation go? After Mass one Sunday, she was talking with Rev. Richard Carlino, pastor of St. John's and of St. Anthony's parish in Schenectady, about her predicament.
"How about [using] the rectory?" Father Carlino asked.
St. John's rectory was built in 1865. Four stories high and approximately 11,000 square feet, the building still contains old paintings, antiques and crucifixes collected from more than 100 years of occupancy. Mrs. Ianniello loves that, saying foster children may not be exposed to such religious history elsewhere.
It turned out that Father Carlino had wanted to move out of the rectory for some time. He thought it was "too big" for just himself. Within 10 days of seeing the building, the deal was sealed. Quest for Grace moved into the rectory in November 2016.
"It was really just a blessing," Mrs. Ianniello told The Evangelist. "As much as I liked my landlords down on Erie, they were my landlords. Now when I write my monthly check out to St. John's, I would rather help the Church, my faith. How many people can say they enjoy writing out a check?
"It's just a beautiful building. You can't find homes like this," she added. "When kids come in here to shop, they think that it's a castle. They're so excited to come in and shop, and it's set up just like a store. The only difference is, everything is free."
How it works
To visit Quest for Grace, a foster parent or caseworker must contact Mrs. Ianniello to set up an appointment. Each foster child is allowed to visit twice yearly: once between March and September for spring and summer clothing, and once between October and February for fall and winter clothing.
During each visit, children are allowed to pick out a week's worth of clothes (about six outfits), underwear, socks, shoes, pajamas and a coat or bathing suit. They can also choose some toys, books and miscellaneous items. There is a playroom where younger kids can stay while their foster parent or caseworker shops.
Mrs. Ianniello said that, while most of the clothing is donated, she has high standards for what's accepted. She wants the place to feel like a real store and and won't put anything on the racks that she wouldn't give to her own children.
The first floor of the former rectory is for children's clothing, shoes and toys; the second floor has clothing and shoes for teenagers. The third floor is used for storage. Every part of the building is filled with tables, shelves or racks of clothing, labeled by age range and other specifications.
Both Mrs. Ianniello and Father Carlino believe it was divine intervention that brought Quest for Grace to the rectory at the time Father Carlino was hoping to move out. Father Carlino called the situation "a dream come true."
"I know God plays a huge role in this. He led me to this building, I know it," Mrs. Ianniello said. "I know God loves these children more than I do. He brings these children to me so I can help His children."
(Contact the Quest for Grace Foundation at 518-301-5662 or email@example.com and see www.questforgrace.com.)
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