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Dress A Child Around The World

09 May 2016 Written by  By Carol Vogl
Published in May 2016 Articles

Twice a month about 50 members of our Dress a Child Around the World project join together to make articles of clothing for disadvantaged children living in other countries.

We sew fancy “pillow case” dresses for girls age 4-14 and shorts for boys age 5-12. Not all of the women wish to make dresses so some engage in other parts of the process. We do our work in a cafeteria style. Some women cut out patterns small, medium, and large.

Each pattern is sent to a sewer who chooses a bodice, bias tape for the armholes, elastic, and any trim that suits their fancy. They then assemble the dress as a one of a kind creation. Each of our products is unique. When a dress is particularly fancy or colorful, women might copy some of the design elements, but none of us wants to make a dozen dresses that are exactly alike and don’t even deliberately make two that are exactly alike. The women are free to use their imaginations and create dresses of whatever style, design, materials, patterns, buttons, and frills they desire. Each of the women puts her own personality into each of the dresses. We’ve been told that the girls particularly enjoy seeing buttons or lace trim on their dresses, so we have buttons and lace all over each of our dresses. The only design requirement is for each dress to have at least one pocket because we ship each with a pair of panties in the pocket.

We don’t call ourselves “Dress A Girl Around the World” because a couple years ago, one of our women said, “I have grandsons. What about the boys?” So began making shorts with underpants in the pocket. For whatever reason, people tell us some of the boys are more excited about their new underpants than about their new shorts.

We buy the panties and underpants in bulk, but everything else we use has been donated including machines, fabrics, irons, ironing boards, trim, laces, notions, and buttons. We accept monetary donations, which are tax deductible through the church. This helps with ancillary costs including postage.

We meet from 9:00 a.m. to noon on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. Not all the women stay for the meeting; some of them gather up fabric and the other things they need to make a dress, and then do the work at home. As of March, a total of 6,313 dresses have been distributed to young girls in 27 different countries.

Even though we meet in Christ the King Church, we are not a religious organization. Many of our women are not Catholic or, in some cases, not even affiliated with religion. Also, our membership includes women from many areas of Contra Costa County including Martinez, Antioch, Concord, Danville, Alamo, Lafayette, and Orinda. (I probably missed some.) Many of our dresses are distributed through the foreign mission projects in local churches. We make annual shipments through St. Matthew’s Lutheran and St. Paul’s Episcopal in Walnut Creek and through St. Isidore Catholic Church in Danville. However, we will send dresses anywhere that we can find a need and a person who will be responsible for ensuring that the dresses actually get into the hands of the children for whom they are intended. Young girls and boys in Haiti, Kenya, the Philippines, Columbia, Honduras, Nicaragua, India, Cuba, and Myanmar are wearing our dresses and shorts. We aren’t neglecting our own country. Our clothes are being worn by children attending Indian Schools in Oklahoma and New Mexico. We’ve even kept some dresses in California, shipping them to Delano, Castroville, and Stockton to be worn by children in homeless shelters and by farm workers’ children.

A Catholic deacon, Rory Desmond, recently took a shipment of dresses with him to an area in India so remote from the outside world that the people and especially the children were unacquainted with tailored clothing. Rory told us that the kids were amazed and delighted, since none of the children had ever received anything from anyone.

Dress a Child has created an opportu- nity for each of us to do something to make the world a better place. A pretty new dress can provide an impoverished young girl with a sense of dignity and respect that might change the course of her life. That’s satisfying, of course. However, I can’t help but think that while we are working together — our little room buzzing like Santa’s Workshop and the women laughing and talking together — our making the world a better place is making us better people. At least we’re happier and with a sense of joyful comradery.

We meet in the Parish Hall at Christ the King Church, 199 Brandon Street, Pleasant Hill. Come join us. We enjoy greeting and getting to know new members.

Sewing has been a passion of mine since 2001, when I sewed a small sundress for my grandchild, Madeline. I hadn’t sewn since my teens, but when I saw the lovely little garment I had made with my own hands, I wanted to do that again. As she grew, I continued sewing pretty clothes for her. Eventually she became a teenager and replaced my frilly and fancy designs with jeans and t-shirts.
My sewing moved up to another level when my volunteer work at the Monument Crises Center brought me into contact with a number of young, poor Hispanic girls. I received permission from the center manager to teach a class during the summer break in which the girls would learn to sew. I had a large supply of fabric that I had collected over the years, so I posted a notice at Concord’s JoAnn Fabric, requesting donations of sewing machines. Seven machines showed up.
A dozen girls spent the next six weeks learning basic seamstress skills. When the class ended, I still had the machines and the fabric. Things fell into place when I learned of a nonprofit organization called Dress A Girl Around the World. It seemed a wonderful vision, and it occurred to me that with my machines and fabric, I could get some women together and we could make dresses for little girls in foreign countries.

I contacted the pastor, Brian Joyce, at my parish, which is Pleasant Hill’s Christ the King Church, told him about my Dress a Girl, and asked if I could use church facilities for the project. He asked me what my goal was, and I realized that I had never thought of that. Right off the top of my head I said, “I suppose I could make 300 dresses.” Fr. Joyce gave us a go-ahead, and I posted an appeal for fabric, volunteers, and machines in our parish bulletin and hung appeals in other local churches. The response was gratifying because 20 women showed up for the first meeting. By the end of the first year, we had received 15 donated machines and shipped 1,000 dresses to young girls in foreign countries — three times my original goal. After five years, the work has grown in a gratifying manner. We now have more than 70 women in the organization including nearly all the 20 women who showed up at the first meeting. We work on 25 donated machines, plus some of the women bring their own portable machines with them to the meetings. Our gatherings are merry affairs because we have grown into a sisterhood of women who share stories, hopes, discouragement, and dreams together with our shared passion for making pretty dresses for little girls around the planet.

We thoroughly enjoy creating beautiful, colorful articles of clothing. Each woman has a story. The participation is important on many levels and for many of us represents a way we can do something, in a small way, to make the world a prettier and happier place.

I am amazed by the energy continually expended by volunteers in reaching out and meeting the needs of disadvantaged people. The world is full of wonderful people providing help for others in need. In particular, of course, our dresses provide a note of hope and cheer for children who, in many cases, don’t have a lot to be hopeful or cheerful about.

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