Sewing hope in girls around the world

Posted April 17, 2014 at 5:00 am


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By Julie Ann Madden

“We’re not just sending dresses, we’re sending hope” is the motto of a nonprofit Christian group called “Little Dresses For Africa.”

People from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Singapore and all over the United States, including Akron, Iowa, are sewing dresses for African girls.

All it takes is a pillowcase, some sewing elastic and bias tape, according to one local seamstress Alta Johnson.

Former Akron resident Doris Brundeen brought the project to Akron’s Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Women’s group, which makes bandages from bed sheets and sends them to the Lutheran World Relief organization.

Advertisements for donations of sheets are made in their church’s weekly bulletin and monthly newsletter, said Johnson, explaining people who donate sheets often include the matching pillowcases, too. When Brundeen asked Lutheran World Relief officials if they wanted something done with the pillowcases, they said no and referred her to Little Dresses For Africa.

“We had a whole bunch of pillowcases so I went to (the organization’s) website,” Johnson told The Akron Hometowner. “I thought I’ll just try this.”

“I got started and it was so much fun,” she said, explaining she makes five or six dresses assembly-line style at one time. It takes a couple of hours to make each dress from start to finish.

Of course, she sometimes adds decorations such as a line of ric-rac trim a few inches from the bottom, a pocket surrounded by lace or a ribbon bow at the neckline.

“It’s a little expensive for the bias tape but otherwise there’s not much expense except for (the postage costs to mail them to the organization),” she said.

Last fall, Johnson made 42 of these pillowcase dresses and shipped them to the organization, which is located in Brownstown, Mich. Since Christmas, she has made 18 more.

Marilyn Berka, wife of Immanuel Lutheran Church’s interim pastor, Jim Berka, also sews these special dresses. Her special gift is often sewing a matching small purse to go with the dress.

The rest of Immanuel’s ELCW group makes bandages or sews quilts. The group meets any month there is a fifth Thursday, on Work For Missions Day, They cut sheets into strips to roll into bandages and make quilts for Lutheran World Relief.

Little Dresses For Africa was founded in 2008 by Rachel O’Neill.

More than 2 million dresses have been made by volunteers and shipped overseas. They have been distributed in 47 African countries plus sent to other countries in crisis such as Honduras, Guatemala, Thailand, The Dominican, The Philippines, Cambodia, Mexico and Haiti. Furthermore, dresses have been sent to children in need right here in the United States, in the Appalachian Mountains and South Dakota.

“Our mission is to provide relief to children of Africa, by distributing dresses to little girls,” according to the organization’s website. “It is our hope that in delivering dresses to these young girls, that a seed will be planted in their hearts, in the name of Jesus, that they are worthy.”

It’s more than just a dress! Although clothing is needed, these little dresses also give us an opportunity to hold Bible classes, children’s camps and informal teaching sessions to increase their knowledge in nutrition, clean water, and and to promote good health and family skills knowledge. We also visit many patients who are suffering from AIDS, and their care-givers, to offer encouragement and hope.” sanitation and to promote good health and family skills knowledge. We also visit many patients who are suffering from AIDS, and their care-givers, to offer encouragement and hope.” and to promote good health and family skills knowledge. We also visit many patients who are suffering from AIDS, and their care-givers, to offer encouragement and hope.”

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