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Sewing dresses, lives together

10/16/2013

By KALEY CONNER

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

The constant whir of sewing machines filled the gym at Celebration Community Church in Hays, accompanied only by the sound of friendly chatter.

The ringing of a bell changed all that -- the sewing machines fell silent, and the sewers operating them erupted in applause.

"That means a dress is done," Connie Eigenmann said, a big smile on her face.

A group of nearly 20 women gathered at the church Saturday morning as part of the ministry's inaugural Little Dresses of Love campaign. Women from several area churches have united for the project, which will send handmade dresses to young girls in Third World countries.

The simple, brightly colored frocks will be included in shoe boxes the church is assembling as part of Operation Christmas Child, a national ministry that sends holiday gifts to needy children across the globe.

Many Ellis County churches will participate in the gift drive, which will culminate with a collection next month.

Inspiration from the project came from an international ministry called Little Dresses for Africa, said Vera Haver, who organized the project with Eigenmann.

"This year our goal is 1,000 by Nov. 1, and I see us meeting that easy as far as the dresses go," Haver said.

The project started a month ago, and approximately 500 dresses already had been completed prior to last weekend's "work day" at the church. Finished dresses covered tables and hung on the walls.

Haver said her sister, a resident of Colby, single-handedly finished 200 dresses for the project.

"Once you catch the fire for it, it's just crazy," Eigenmann said. "Some of these ladies would stay up all night long sewing dresses."

At the front of the room, a large pile of scrap material for the dresses continued to shrink.

"It's beautiful," Eigenmann said.

Haver got the idea for the project at a quilt show this summer. She always has loved to sew and was looking for a way to expand Celebration's quilt ministry.

"This is so awesome," she said of the work day, "because we don't take time out anymore to enjoy each other's company. We're always all so busy. This is an opportunity for women to just take a day and get to know one another, and at the same time serving God."

Eigenmann is quick to admit she's not an expert sewer, but she has been involved with Operation Christmas Child since she moved to Hays five years ago. She also sponsors several children overseas and knows how much the dresses will be appreciated.

"Every year, they send me a picture of the girls," she said of her sponsored children, who she visited in Africa last summer. "Sometimes for three years in a row, the girl is wearing the same dress. That's the only article of clothing they've had for three years.

"So these dresses will definitely be cherished."

Something as simple as a homemade dress also could serve as protection for the young women who often are left to raise their siblings if their parents die of AIDS or other prevalent diseases, said church member Sandy Bangle.

"If they have a nice dress like this, their chances of being raped is far less, because they think they're being well taken care of," she said. "It makes a huge difference."

The women took a streamlined approach to last weekend's workshop, dividing into several work stations.

Some women hemmed the dresses, while others inserted elastic and bindings for the straps. Non-sewers also were put to work matching fabric and adding embellishments.

"That's what personalizes it," Eigenmann said. "So many hands touch it."