Church Members Reach Out to Aid Haiti

As rebuilding efforts continue in Haiti a year after a devastating earthquake, members of a Wheeling church have made a practical, and colorful, contribution to help impoverished children in the hard-hit island nation.

As an outreach project, a number of members at Lawrencefield Parish Church on Table Rock Lane decided to make dresses for young Haitian girls affected by the earthquake. After learning of a similar effort undertaken in the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio, the Wheeling Episcopalians made contact with the Rev. Kesner Ajax, coordinator of a partnership program in the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti. An organization called Agape Flights in Venice, Fla., transported the homemade dresses from Florida to Haiti, where Ajax distributed the clothing to children in need, explained the Rev. Cynthia Byers Walter, rector of Lawrencefield,

Initially, the Lawrencefield sewing corps made “pillowcase” dresses, using a pattern available online to transform an ordinary pillowcase into a simple, lightweight, sleeveless dress.

However, not wanting to be hemmed in by the limited choices of patterns available in commercially-produced pillowcases, some of the sewers bought fabric and designed their own patterns for dresses in a similar style.

Participant Jaci Neer of Wheeling related that she started buying fabric to make dresses “because I couldn’t find patterned pillowcases.” Neer’s cousin, Elaine Gasber of Mentor, Ohio, also joined the effort and sewed 14 dresses.

A total of 57 dresses, including Gasber’s creations and 43 made by the women of Lawrencefield, were completed in their initial campaign, they said.

The number of dresses made by the parish group exceeded their original expectations because, as participant Mary Frohme of Wheeling pointed out, “You get hooked.” Walter remarked, “It (the dress) was just fun to make.”

Participant Barbara Jones of Wheeling said it was fun to find yard goods or pillowcases for the sewing project. Other folks helped with the effort. “My hairdresser said, ‘I’ve got lots of fabric,”‘ Jones added.

Even though each sewer works from the same basic pattern, the finished results show their individuality and creativity. “They’re all completely different,” Jones said, surveying a row of completed dresses displayed on hangers in the parish hall. She likened the individual touches to the process that occurs “when you give a recipe to someone.”

The creators accented the dresses with ruffles, rick-rack, appliques and other trims. Jones even embroidered “bugs” perched on flowers in the fabric of her dresses.

Noting that the dresses were made in different lengths, Neer explained, “We tried to make a variety of sizes.” Another boon for the recipients is that “most of the fabric is wash-and-wear,” Neer said.

The seamstresses made the dresses in their own homes. They found that a dress could be sewn in a short length of time. “It takes 45 minutes if you use a pillowcase,” Frohme said. Walter said her first effort took 90 minutes, but she was able to complete the next dress in only 40 minutes.

Parishioner Janine Reddy of Wheeling also participated in the sewing project. Another parishioner, Shirley Weaver of Wheeling, agreed to pay the postage ($4 a pound) to ship the finished dresses.

“I’m surprised at the results. It’s the first time Lawrencefield has done anything like this,” Frohme commented. “We could do this. This should be part of what we do.”

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A bigger “pillowcase” dress project – destined for children in Africa – is being conducted at another Episcopal church in West Virginia.

Women of Christ Episcopal Church in Point Pleasant and their friends from other community churches meet once a month to sew dresses and shorts for African children. To date, they have sent 425 dresses, nine shorts-and-top sets and 255 shorts to Little African Dress Project based in Michigan or to the Rev. Zachary Drennen directly in Africa, parishioner Becky Wood said. Drennen, an Episcopal missionary from West Virginia, operates the Elewana Education Project in Kenya.

In addition to the clothing, Wood said said that a pair of underwear and a small toy is placed in a pocket of each outfit.

“This is a major outreach project for the church and the other ladies who attend on a regular basis,” she commented. “A high school student who is earning her community service hours also assists in the dress project.”

“Members of the church support the project by purchasing pillowcases and providing underwear on ‘Undies Sunday,”‘ Wood added. “Thus, all members of the church are engaged in the project in some way.”