For 11 years, Baby Grace has helped single mothers and their children. This weekend brings another opportunity for the community to step forward and lend its support.

Since beginning in 2006 at Buckner United Methodist Church, the program has been picked up at 17 locations -- without soliciting any -- including Northern Boulevard United Methodist in Independence and other Methodist congregations as far away as Boonville, Fulton and Eldon.

The idea started with Care packages for students at Fort Osage High School but has grown to a range of services including basic baby needs such as diapers, bottles and clothes; educational opportunities; and spiritual development. There’s a quarterly open house with clothing, and a summer camp – a break from the routine and a chance to connect with others – for mothers and small children.

“And we have lots of moms who have turned their lives around,” said Juli Yocum, the group’s executive director, adding that program alumni have been helpers and mentors.

Another role is in advocacy for families who can too easily become socially isolated, fighting to raise awareness and knock down stereotypes.

“I will speak to any audience any time anywhere that will listen to me,” Yocum said.

An annual fundraiser is set for Saturday in Buckner. A craft fair with more than 40 vendors is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Lifetime Investments, 4 Monroe St. Visitors can bring a package of baby wipes for a raffle ticket, and they can get their cards punched at other local businesses.

At 3 p.m., visitors can bring their cards to Buckner United Methodist Church, 109 S. Hudson, where Matt Ford is working with Baby Grace for a Drive 4UR Community event. It’s a free test drive with a Baby Grace volunteer – no strings attached, no hard sell, Yocum said – and the Ford Motor Company is giving Baby Grace $20 for each test drive taken. (Baby Grace is giving $1 of that for diapers in the Houston area. Diapers often are in desperately short supply after a disaster.)

“It’s really a nice way for the community to come together … and support Baby Grace,” Yocum said.

Much of the work at Baby Grace – “Grace” is God Receives All Children Equally – is supplying basic baby needs. Much of it is emotional and even spiritual, reaching out to mothers “to just help them feel like they’re not alone,” Yocum said.

A key to the program’s approach, she said, is “nonjudgmental and selfless service” and focusing on making sure the needs of children are met. Parents make tremendous sacrifices, she said, and for many it takes courage to ask for help.

The program also has a short summer camp at the Wilderness Camping and Retreat Center near Lawson, Mo., that this year had nine moms and 14 children up to age 4. Among other things, it gave the chance to connect with other moms.

One mother, Yocum said, said she’s been a mother for nine and a half years and this camp offered her the first chance to be accepted for who she is.

“It really is the transformation from isolation to community,” Yocum said.