|May 9, 2016 • VOL. 54, NO. 9 • Oakland, CA|
You don't have to look far to imagine the look on children's faces when they open their gift: some of the parishioners who carry handmade dresses and shorts, packed tightly in suitcases bound for foreign destinations, send back photos showing happy faces and wide grins, and often impossibly thin arms holding the dresses and shorts to be admired.
The women are quick to tell you they get more out of it than they put into it. They enjoy sewing — and if they don't, they wield scissors at the cutting table or irons at the boards. And they enjoy each other's company.
The ring leader is Carol Vogl, who coordinates an endeavor that has grown beyond what she imagined when she brought the idea to her pastor more than four years ago.
"I started volunteering at the Monument Crisis Center in Concord, where they distribute clothes and food to the needy," Vogl said. "I was volunteering there, packing boxes of food and I saw a lot of teenage girls, and I wondered, what do they do all the time? I asked if I could teach the girls sewing during the summer."
The request was granted. "I had about 12 girls during the summer that I taught. In that time, I sent out notices to friends and family and at Jo-Ann Fabrics. I needed donations of fabric and sewing machines," Vogl said.
"When the summer was over, I thought, what am I going to do now?"
She had heard about Dress a Girl Around the World, an international organization with the motto, "Imagine a world where every girl owned at least one dress." Following simple patterns, volunteers make dresses that are distributed by missionaries and other travelers to countries where the clothes provide valuable protection from predators. An active group that divides its time between St. Michael Parish in Livermore and Catholic Community of Pleasanton participates in this effort.
Vogl looked up the organization on the Internet.
"I came to the pastor, at the time it was Father Brian Joyce," she recalled. "I'd like to start this little ministry.
"If you had a woman's club, this is something we would be doing. Would it be OK if I start this little sewing group."
Sounds good, he said, then asked her, "What is your goal?"
"I didn't have a goal," Vogl said. But she thought of one quickly. "I suppose we could make 300 dresses," she said. "Maybe 10 or 12 women could do that."
"In the first year, we had a thousand dresses," Vogl said.
In early 2016, in their fourth year, the ministry passed the 6,000-dress milestone.
Dresses are not all that they make. "The grandmothers said, now, wait a minute. I have three grandsons," Vogl said. "How come we're not doing shorts?"
Short pants were added to the repertoire. The name became Dress a Child Around the World.
Those dresses and shorts have made their way around the world: Haiti, Kenya, the Philippines, South Africa, Columbia, Honduras, Nicaragua, India, Cuba and Myanmar, to name a few of the destinations. Vogl has carried some clothes to Delano and Stockton for the children of farmworkers. Some have made their way to Indian schools in New Mexico and Oklahoma, and some to Moore, Oklahoma, where a tornado struck in 2013.
Meeting twice a month — they take summers off — in the large ministry center on the Christ the King campus, upward of 50 women gather at sewing machines Vogl and her husband carefully prepare for them. The details include a little red cup taped to each workstation as a place for stray threads.
At one end of the room, sit stacks of pre-cut dresses, pockets and binding to complete the dresses, including a notions corner with trim, lace and buttons to personalize each project.
That's one trick Vogl shares: The recipients like to have a button sewn into the bottom of each pocket — it makes many of them feel they have something of their own.
In another room, women use tried-but-true templates to cut yards of donated fabric. Others staff the ironing boards. One woman sits at the serger, hemming the cut pieces.
A clothesline is strung across the hall. Some of the women deliver clothing they made at home. As the day progresses, the line fills with sweetly detailed dresses and shorts.
"You can tell the quilters by the pockets," one says. Fanciful pockets with flower appliques stand out, too. Into each pocket, volunteers stuff a pair of panties for the dresses, and underwear for the shorts. It's one of the few things the ministry buys. Often packages of underwear appear, donated by parishioners who find it on sale and can't pass up the opportunity.
One of the most poignant deliveries of the day was a glass vase with artfully arranged peonies and iris, from the garden of Winnie Spars.
Her daughter brings them. Winnie Spars died in December. Her obituary mentioned the sewing group, "which she greatly enjoyed."
Carol Vogl raised two boys. "I started to sew when I got a granddaughter," she said.
Sewing for granddaughters, Vogl said, is fine until they get to be about 7. "Then they want jeans and T-shirts," she said. This may explain why there are so many grandmothers in the ministry: The desire to sew "frilly little dresses" is met by a ministry that supplies clothing to children who may never have had something new in their lives.
The women stop their work for a break during which they share a snack, hear about deliveries abroad and wait expectantly for a joke, which Vogl delivers.
"Over four years, we have become a sisterhood," Vogl said. "We really have. We feel each other's pain, we feel each other's joy."
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