They sat around folding tables in the Coal Mountain Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ gym, chatting over the hum of their sewing machines.
Piles of fabric surrounded the Relief Society as their skilled hands navigated the dresses, which will be sent to Haiti later this year, through the needles of their machines.
“The women of the church believe in providing service and doing Christ-like work for other people,” said society President Debbie Johnson. “The scriptures talk about clothing the naked and indeed that’s what this is, so that’s why we’re doing it.”
Johnson, along with more than a dozen other church women, have spent the last several months cutting, pinning and sewing together fabric as part of a project that will ultimately send 251 dresses to girls and women in Haiti.
The women have already sent 50 dresses to the country, which were met with bright smiles and looks of awe from the girls.
Johnson said she hopes the other 200 dresses will bring just as much happiness to their recipients.
“What happened was about a year-and-a-half ago, a woman in Gainesville died of cancer; I didn’t know who she was, but I believe she was a member of our church, but a different congregation,” Johnson said. “She was a quilter, and they held a sale with all this fabric; quilters collect fabric. There was tons of fabric left at the end of the day and I told the woman running the sale, if [the deceased woman’s] husband would like to make a donation, we would turn this fabric into something really good and make dresses for little girls. I got a phone call from him that evening and he said, ‘it’s all yours.’”
Johnson said there was so much fabric, it filled the pickup truck she and her husband drove.
“The first thing we did is last year, we did a dozen pieced quilts for Family Haven, which is a [domestic violence] shelter,” she said. “This is the leftover fabric and we started working on this probably in April. Someone we go to church with knew a couple that do missionary work in Haiti and she said, ‘would you like to send some?’ So, we sent 50, and the rest are going via someone else.”
On Nov. 9, the women began to put some of the final touches on the dresses, which will be displayed at the church in December prior to being shipped overseas.
While the number gets smaller and smaller each time — Johnson said as the process moves along, the more skilled sewers are increasingly needed — each woman had a reason to be there.
“I like to sew, and I feel like I’ve been blessed with so much that I should do something to help those with less,” said Tiffany Walke, one of the sewers. “I enjoy it and it feels good to know you’re helping.”
Johnson said that is exactly what the opportunity is — a chance to help.
“Our kids here have everything they need,” she said. “There’s always local needs, but this was an opportunity that we really felt like was inspired by God just to fall into our laps — to provide a way to think outside of ourselves. And, [the dresses] are cute!”
Marsha Hill smiled as she pinned the dresses, echoing Johnson.
“I’m excited to be a part of something that’s bigger than myself,” she said. “This is something that’s not just focused on my needs or wants and it makes me feel good to know that I’m blessing the lives of [others]. It was wonderful to see [photos of] the smiles on the [girls’] faces and the light in their eyes and to know that we’re all children of our heavenly father no matter where we live in the world.”