How Sewing for Smiles helps clothe needy children
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."
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.
How you can helpDonateSewing For Smiles needs: pillowcases (any size, color, condition, used is fine), half-inch elastic, thread (any size or color), any lace and trim, double wide-double fold bias tape, gift cards or 50-percent off coupons for Joann Fabric and Craft Stores, Hobby Lobby or Walmart. Monetary donations are also accepted. Donations can be dropped off or mailed (c/o Sewing for Smiles) to A Thimble Change, 211 S. Third St., St. Charles, 60174.
Make a dressHandy with a needle and thread? Pillowcase dress instructions, and more information, are available at athimblechange.wordpress.com/sewing-for-smiles.
Distribute dressesIs your church or nonprofit organization going on a mission trip where children's dresses would be appreciated? Contact Ruth Ratke at (630) 234-4794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.