How Sewing for Smiles helps clothe needy children

  • Susan Cox-Hall of North Aurora makes dresses out of pillowcases and donates them to children in developing countries through the St. Charles-based charity Sewing for Smiles.

      Susan Cox-Hall of North Aurora makes dresses out of pillowcases and donates them to children in developing countries through the St. Charles-based charity Sewing for Smiles. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Sewing for Smiles is a St. Charles-based nonprofit for which volunteers sew dresses out of pillowcases. The dresses are then donated to children in developing countries.

      Sewing for Smiles is a St. Charles-based nonprofit for which volunteers sew dresses out of pillowcases. The dresses are then donated to children in developing countries. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Susan Cox-Hall of North Aurora makes dresses out of pillowcases in her "she-cave."

      Susan Cox-Hall of North Aurora makes dresses out of pillowcases in her "she-cave." Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Susan Cox-Hall of North Aurora prepares to cut a pillowcase that she will make into a dress that will be donated to a child in a developing country through the St. Charles-based charity Sewing for Smiles.

      Susan Cox-Hall of North Aurora prepares to cut a pillowcase that she will make into a dress that will be donated to a child in a developing country through the St. Charles-based charity Sewing for Smiles. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Children wear dresses made by volunteers working for the St. Charles-based charity Sewing for Smiles.

    Children wear dresses made by volunteers working for the St. Charles-based charity Sewing for Smiles. COURTESY OF SUSAN COX-HALL

  • Susan Cox-Hall of North Aurora pulls a finished pillowcase dress off the sewing machine. The dresses are donated to children in developing countries through the St. Charles-based charity Sewing for Smiles. The nonprofit organization was founded by Ruth Ratke of A Thimble Change in St. Charles.

      Susan Cox-Hall of North Aurora pulls a finished pillowcase dress off the sewing machine. The dresses are donated to children in developing countries through the St. Charles-based charity Sewing for Smiles. The nonprofit organization was founded by Ruth Ratke of A Thimble Change in St. Charles. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Pillowcase dresses sewn by Susan Cox-Hall of North Aurora and other Sewing for Smiles volunteers are distributed to needy children around the world.

    Pillowcase dresses sewn by Susan Cox-Hall of North Aurora and other Sewing for Smiles volunteers are distributed to needy children around the world. Courtesy of Susan Cox-Hall

 
 

Can one person make a difference? You bet they can. Just ask Susan Cox-Hall of North Aurora.

"Years ago, Ruth Ratke started a group called Sewing for Smiles, a 501c3 organization that makes girls' dresses out of pillowcases," said Cox-Hall. "I had learned how to sew when I was in 4-H, so I volunteered to help."

Ratke had seen the idea online and wanted to do something locally. A professional seamstress and owner of A Thimble Change in St. Charles, Ratke quickly created a pattern to use and started an organization that takes pillowcases and turns them into beautiful dresses for underprivileged girls around the world.

"In the beginning, we had many volunteers and created over 6,000 dresses," Ratke said. "As I got busier in my sewing business, I became less involved. Susan continued on."

Cox-Hall took it on as her own mission. She didn't just create the dresses, she promoted the idea to community organizations, from Fox Valley Newcomers to P.E.O.

"I was able to give presentations and ask for donations," she added. "I'm a member of P.E.O. and a past president. P.E.O chapter members were a big support."

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P.E.O. is a philanthropic organization that provides educational opportunities for women. In many countries, the dresses give local girls clothing to wear to school. That was a perfect fit with P.E.O.'s mission.

Cox-Hall has also become quite a savvy shopper, always on the lookout for a sale on pillowcases and supplies.

"I was in Colorado and a friend took me to a Goodwill outlet," she said. "They sold things by the pound and I came home with a suitcase full of pillowcases. "

A member of Christ Community Church in St. Charles, Cox-Hall has no problem finding places for her pillowcase dresses. Christ Community members participate in 30 to 40 mission trips a year.

The dresses have gone around the world, to countries in Africa, as well as South America, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean. When there is a need in the United States, the dresses are sent.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"With all of the need in Haiti, I contacted Hope for Haitians and asked if they could include some dresses in a shipment for Haiti," said Cox-Hall. The desire to help crosses denominations.

"The Rockford Diocese for the Catholic Church sent a news item to parishes. They responded with a donation of more than 500 pillowcases."

This past year, Susan Cox-Hall taught home economics students at Mooseheart how to make the dresses.

"Both the school and the students, including a large group of boys, really got excited about the project," she added.

Cox-Hall has always enjoyed sewing, a craft that might just be in her genetic makeup.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"My dad owned the Aurora Coat Factory and my grandmother owned it before him," she said. "I remember going there and I incorporated some of what they did there into my own work to save time and be more efficient."

As of this date, Cox-Hall has created more than 2,600 dresses. She has sewn and decorated each with ribbons, buttons and other details. Her efforts have not gone unappreciated.

"I have received beautiful thank-you notes and letters from around the world, and a lovely picture album of smiling girls wearing the dresses," she said. "These young girls are experiencing God's love."

If you would like to make pillowcase dresses for a mission trip, patterns are available at athimblechange.wordpress.com/sewing-for-smiles.

Susan Cox-Hall isn't out to make the most dresses ever made by one person. She isn't looking for glory, praise, or adulation. She just wants to help children who are in desperate need, one dress at a time.

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