‘Sewing ministry’ involves several segments of community

Students from the Huntington University Theater Department helped sew children’s clothing for use in missions around the world. Pictured (from left) are Alyssa Plisco, Sarah Moloney, Alora Trinkle, instructor Mary Zellers, project coordinator Kris Hittler, Jordan Gregory, Trenidy Cox and Emma Fried. Students not pictured are CeCe Cherry, Karli Melder, Jessi Snyder, Cailin Fielding, Kaeley Osterman, Emma Slavin-Hall and Lauren Sowers.
Students from the Huntington University Theater Department helped sew children’s clothing for use in missions around the world. Pictured (from left) are Alyssa Plisco, Sarah Moloney, Alora Trinkle, instructor Mary Zellers, project coordinator Kris Hittler, Jordan Gregory, Trenidy Cox and Emma Fried. Students not pictured are CeCe Cherry, Karli Melder, Jessi Snyder, Cailin Fielding, Kaeley Osterman, Emma Slavin-Hall and Lauren Sowers. Photo by Steve Clark.

Originally published April 28, 2016.

For an hour every Wednesday afternoon, about a dozen dedicated women can be found sitting around the large dining room table located at The Heritage of Huntington.

Most of them are residents of the facility and, for the past year and a half, their sewing circle has served a worldwide ministry as they sew hundreds of brightly colored, brand new dresses for little girls living in other countries.

For some of the volunteers, the project has actually become a ministry to them, giving them inspiration as well as letting them put their skills to use in blessing children.

Kris Hittler, a member of Emmanuel Community Church, first read about a similar ministry in Michigan, but she says it was the mother of a friend who inspired the enthusiasm of making dresses for girls in developing countries.

“Her mom is 87 and she lives in North Dakota,” Hittler explains. “Twyla said, ‘You know, my mom can’t hear, she doesn’t go to church anymore, she feels isolated, and she doesn’t have anything to do.’ And I knew she could sew. I said, ‘Do you think she’d want to make dresses? I could probably send her fabric.’”

Hittler began sending fabric to the woman in North Dakota, and about three months later, the report back was amazingly encouraging.

“Twyla emailed me and said, ‘You cannot believe the difference in my mom. She is like, every day she gets up and she’s so excited — like, “I get to make a dress!”’” Hittler says. “So I started thinking, maybe there are other women who feel the same way, that are in their 80s, and don’t really have anything bigger than themselves.”

Hittler pitched the idea to the missions director at her church and to the activities director at The Heritage of Huntington. The group started meeting once a week at the Senior care facility to combine their talents into wearable works of art. She estimates that more than 1,000 dresses have been made by the group.

Elsie Reckard, a resident of The Heritage of Huntington, has been donating her time with the ministry since the first day it started. She says the time flies when the group gets together and gets into the groove of assembling the clothing.

“I enjoy it,” she says. “I enjoy the fellowship and just doing something good for somebody … It’s just fun to be with all the women and know you’ve done something important while you’re doing it.”

The fabric and notions are donated, Hittler says, much of it coming from the people of Emmanuel Community Church, which facilitates the project. At The Heritage of Huntington, the women form an assembly line of sorts. Some women use sewing machines to put the basic dresses together, while others thread elastic, measure hems and iron. The group also makes shorts for boys, but the main focus is dresses.

The Heritage of Huntington resident Maribelle Bechstein is works a sewing machine during the construction process.

“The sewing is what I enjoy doing. I’ve been a seamstress all my life,” Bechstein says. “So when they said sew, I came right down here fast … I know it’s something that I can do for someone else. We have a lot of fun doing it.”

Along with the ladies of The Heritage, about 78 women at Emmanuel are also involved in the project. In addition, a group of theater shop students at Huntington University signed on, using the down time between shows to turn out 71 dresses and 15 pairs of shorts in 5 1/2 weeks. The costume shop supervisor, Mary Zellers, says the students loved doing the project, allowing for some creative juices to flow.

“They worked on them, usually, about eight hours a day,” she explains. “They were so fun — they were like, ‘Oh, I bet this little girl would like a flower on their dress’ or ‘Let’s put some buttons on this dress.’ They don’t know these kids, but yet they just come in like they were their aunts and uncles. It was so fun watching them do this kind of project.”

Hittler takes the finished clothing back to her church, where other women sew on the trimmings, if needed. They are then brought back to The Heritage of Huntington, where the ladies roll and pack the clothes into boxes to be sent to various ministries, which distribute the dresses to children in need.

Some of the countries where their dresses have been welcomed include Sierra Leone, Liberia, Honduras, Jamaica, Haiti, Belize and India.

“A lot of them go to orphanages; a lot of them go to churches, and the churches use them for their members,” Hittler says. “The ones in Belize went to a school, and they used them as incentive items. Like, if you got your work done and you did what you were supposed to do for the month, you got a dress, or you got a pair of shorts.”

One mission in Haiti sent back pictures of how the dresses were received when they took a shipment to an orphanage in the mountains.

“There were like 300 kids — no clothes. No clothes,” Hittler says. “They said, ‘Kris, you cannot believe how timely that shipment was.’ Those kids were so excited to get a piece of clothing. And for little girls to get a dress on top of it — usually they get an old man’s T-shirt — you just can’t believe the joy on their faces.”

Hittler has seen the joy herself, having taken a shipment of dresses to Africa. She has planned another trip to Nicaragua with 17 other women on a missions trip with the Food for the Hungry ministry, taking along a batch of dresses and another, more important gift.

“We’re actually teaching 40 Nicaraguan women how to sew and make the dresses,” she says. “It all came out of this, that whole thing.”

The enthusiasm of the project has spilled out and the spirit has caught on in other areas, with Hittler’s mother inspired to start a sewing group ministry at her church in Florida.

“The thing about it is, the ladies love to do it. It’s not like they hate this. Even the women at church, and Erna (her friend’s mother), and everybody — they just love making them,” Hittler says. “It’s a God thing, that’s all I can say.”