When Ruth and John Heidig of Laurel take their 4-month-old daughter out shopping with them, they get stares from other shoppers that sometimes seem hard enough to cut through steel.

The sight of John, 57, and Ruth, 56, pushing a stroller may perplex some, but most stare because the Heidigs are white and their daughter is black.

"One lady we saw in a grocery store was so distracted that she walked into a pole trying to keep an eye on us," said Ruth. "It bothered us at first that people would stare. Now we pay very little attention to it." u

The Heidigs are among the few white couples in Prince George's who regularly care for black infants awaiting adoption. They have cared for 20 babies, about five of whom have been black, in their 12 years as foster parents.

With the severe shortage of black pre-adoptive parents in Prince George's, the Heidigs have frequently been called upon to serve as parents to black infants.

The couple first became preadoptive parents when their younger daughter was about to graduate from high school. "We didn't want to be lonely," said Ruth. "And I think our daughter was glad to see us get out of her hair.

"It makes you really feel like you're doing something constructive -- you know, keeping these kids until they find a home," said John.

The Heidigs took their first black infant about nine years ago. "The social workers told us that there were a few black infants without homes, so after talking it over, we decided that it didn't really make any difference whether we were taking care of a black or a white child," said Ruth.

"A home is a home. All a baby wants is love, food and clean diapers. They don't know black and white."

The Heidigs apartment is filled with memories -- closets packed with baby clothes and toys, a photo album showing pictures of their children, a 12-year-old high chair replete with tooth marks.

The Heidigs have usually kept each infant for about 6 months. While they pay little attention to the race of the children, they still have the pain when the infants eventually are picked up by their adoptive parents.

"When the first boy left, I was so upset, I had to turn his pictures to the wall to keep from crying," says Ruth. "If you get through that first one leaving you, you'll make it.

"Now I've been talking about retiring from this work for a long time -- so long that it probably doesn't mean anything now. My husband and I take short vacations between babies sometime, but I really don't know what we would do if we didn't have one around the rest of the time."