Women sit along two long tables in a Southmont Baptist Church classroom, making little dresses. Every time the ladies finishes a dress, church member Laura Roberts, who leads the group, calls out, “Ding, ding, ding!”
The group — a ministry of the local church called Dress a Girl — works fast to make simple dresses that are shipped to the developing world, where girls ages 6 to 11 claim them. In places where Dress a Girl sends the garments, little girls rarely get new clothes.
At the end of April, the Denton ministry made its 1,000th dress.
“We started in June 2013,” said Laura Roberts, a Southmont Baptist member and chairwoman of the congregation’s chapter of Dress a Girl. “For us, this is a way to minister to the little girls. We pray over them. We pray for the people receiving them. And we minister to each other, too.”
The first 100 dresses made by the Southmont Baptist group were sent to Peru in November 2013. Since then, the bright, colorful dresses have gone to India, Kenya, Haiti and Cambodia and to Denton County Friends of the Family.
Dress a Girl is a campaign of the Christian nonprofit Hope 4 Women International. At Southmont, about 25 women — church members and nonmembers — gather from about 9 a.m. to noon on the first and third Thursdays of the month. They bring dishes to share for snacks and lunch, but most of their time is spent assembling dresses and sewing.
At one table, women choose pockets, trim and binding to coordinate with cheerful fabric given by donors.
“We get a lot of fabric from quilters,” Roberts said.
Two women stand at a pair of ironing boards, where they press bindings into the folded shape that will be fitted over the armholes. The dresses — simple A-line shifts — tie over the shoulders.
Another table of women sew, serge and hem edges and add trim onto the pockets. Each seamstress uses a different color thread — a tactic Roberts said helps them work quickly because the fabric donations vary wildly in pattern and color.
“After we finish the dresses, we put a pair of new panties in each pocket to make the donations go that much further,” Roberts said. “In a lot of the places we send them to, the girls don’t have underwear. Like in Cambodia, they said that either the girls don’t have any, or they have homemade panties that are really uncomfortable.”
Vicki Hennington, a Denton resident who comes to the group with her sewing machine, the idea of lending her skill to a little girl was a draw.
“When you think about those girls, they get that dress and the panties, and that can make their day. Something that simple can mean so much,” Hennington said.
Kristy Stinette, another of the seamstresses, said the task is a boon to the volunteers, too.
“It’s an opportunity to encourage each other,” she said. “We love each other, and we are helping others for the glory of God. What better reason is there?”
Southmont pastors Brad Cockrell and Jeff Dooley have hand-delivered the dresses to the girls at a Haitian orphanage the congregation serves.
“They’re just so proud,” Dooley said. “They twirl around with those dresses. They show off for each other. It’s really sweet.”
Cockrell said he and Dooley will deliver more dresses to the orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, this summer. Roughly 100 children live at the orphanage and attend the Christian school on site.
“The way I look at it, this is real special. Real love,” Cockrell said. “It’s a really neat opportunity to be able to be the one to bring these to these girls. They really love it.”
For more information about the ministry, call 940-566-3313.
Featured image: Vicki Hennington looks through her sewing machine and sews bindings to a dress — the last step to finishing the garment — on May 4 at Southmont Baptist Church in Denton.