First Baptist, Bennington, celebrates the missional work of congregants and community members working together to sew "Little Dresses for Africa." In just a few short weeks, over 70 dresses were created for distribution to young girls in African countries via the "Little Dresses for Africa" project.
Little dresses from big hearts
Bennington Banner, April 11, 2011 by Mark E. Rondeau
BENNINGTON -- Women at the First Baptist Church have made more than 70 dresses for girls in Africa. They sewed at the church over three weekends in February and March, and others worked on dresses at home.
Little Dresses for Africa is a non-profit, Christian organization based in Michigan which provides relief to the children of Africa. Simple dresses, at times made out of pillow cases, are distributed through orphanages, churches and schools in Africa.
Aleta Boutin, of First Baptist and co-organizer of the project, said the church had a lot of cloth given to it a couple years ago. Her daughter, Lisa Flynn, saw about Little Dresses for Africa on the Internet and suggested the project. They chose the quiet time between Christmas and the start of Lent for the project.
"We just came -- we brought our machines. We brought supplies for everybody. We shared," said Martha Palka, who also co-organized the project. "And people that couldn't stay did some sewing. There was all kinds of different skill levels, and we just helped people out."
"When it's cold outdoors a lot of ladies do like to have something to do, to sew. So we thought it was also an appropriate time to do it, a nice time of year to do it," Palka said. "And we got, I thought, a good response."
A basic motivation of Little Dresses for Africa is to boost the self-esteem of girls who receive them. "Women are not held in the same esteem in Africa as men are. And so it's really a self-esteem project for women in that country because they really are pretty downtrodden," Palka said. "It's a way of making the girls feel like they're worthy."
Little Dresses for Africa also sends shorts made here for boys in Africa, and the local women also made some shorts. They will send all the clothes to Little Dresses for Africa. "And they make sure the dresses get to the places in Africa where they're needed," Palka said.
As noted, the original idea was to make dresses out of pillowcases. Boutin and Palka downloaded patterns and put them in packets with materials. "So all anybody would have to do is pick up the packet, they'd have the pattern in there, all the supplies and the materials to make the dress," Palka said. "So a lot of people did do that, and I think that's why we had good success with it, because we made it as easy as possible."
The church still has some ready-to-go dress kits available in the church office for those who would like make a little dress for an African girl.
"It's nice because it doesn't take a big commitment of any one person," Palka said. "It doesn't take a big commitment of anybody's time, so they can just take one dress and do one. And then actually we had people who just took one or two, and they came back and said ‘give me a couple more.' They were having fun with it."
People donated additional materials. "One lady went to all the thrift shops and bought up all the nice binding and lace, and one lady even went out and bought a whole box of elastic that we needed for the tops of dresses," Boutin said.
Palka enjoyed the project. "For me, I have to say it was really like kind of an honor to do the project, because I have never really done this kind of thing before, and I was trying to find something within the church... where I could be a happy contributor, really enjoy contributing to the church," she said. "And I really think that this was a nice project to start with. I felt I gained a lot more out of giving my time and effort to this than I could ever have imagined. It was really nice, the people that I met, they really touched my heart. It was really, really nice to do this."
The Rev. Jerrod H. Hugenot, coordinating minister at First Baptist, said its missional projects are open to people "who have affinity with a given project, faith background notwithstanding. The ‘Little Dresses' project reflects the good spirit that emerges when people get together and partner for a short or long-term goal to serve others in need. We're open to suggestions for new projects as well."
Little Dresses For Africa's Website is www.littledressesforafrica.org.