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North Texas volunteers turn donated wedding dresses into baby burial gowns

Several women, armed with scissors, patterns and white satin wedding gowns, met at a Denton library Saturday morning. These women are some of the 30 volunteers with Angel Gowns of North Texas, an organization that takes donated wedding gowns and transforms them into burial gowns for babies who do not make it home from the hospital.

The North Texas chapter has been operational since 2015, said founder and managing director Elena Hemphill. But it wasn’t until early 2016 the organization really took off.

So far, Angel Gowns of North Texas has donated close to 800 sets to Texas hospitals. The sets include a baby gown and a personalized keepsake. Each volunteer makes their own type of keepsake, from embroidered angels to bracelets and pillows, with the wedding gown materials.

The majority of the gowns made are for premature infants. Hemphill said this service helps parents who otherwise would be burdened with the task of finding an outfit small enough to bury their baby in.  

“There really isn't a market for the smaller preemie outfits in general, so it's a chore and very difficult to find anything to fit these small babies, so making these for those families to be able to fit them, instead of having them swim in the newborn size, really helps relieve that pressure,” Hemphill said.

Once per month on a Saturday, the organization holds a “prep day” at Denton's North Branch Library. The day is devoted to cutting out patterns to be given to the seamstresses.

Angel Gowns takes donated wedding gowns and other formal wear, including bridesmaid dresses, tuxedos, prom dresses and communion gowns. The donated outfits then are dismantled, cut into patterns and resewn into baby gowns. The completed sets then are delivered or mailed to Texas hospitals.   

“I started calling some of the local hospitals, and the smaller ones — they hadn't received any types of these kinds of donations, and they were in need,” Hemphill said. “That's when I realized we needed to focus on Texas hospitals. 

"That's our main drive, is to help local Texas families. We continually supply [the hospitals] with what they need.”

Volunteer Vicki Sanderson has a personal connection to Angel Gowns. She and her husband lost a baby.

“It hit home with us,” Sanderson said. “We’ve been through this, and it’s near and dear to my heart.”

As a longtime seamstress, Sanderson started volunteering in February. Since then, she has sewn about 50 gowns, she said.

“The sad part for me is that we have to do this,” Sanderson said. “I try not to think about why I do this and just enjoy the process.”

Dresses and other donations can be dropped off at any of 14 donation locations in Texas. More information about Angel Gowns of North Texas, including how to volunteer and where to donate, can be found at www.angelgownsofnorthtexas.org.

MADISON WILSON can be reached at 940-566-6921. 

FEATURED PHOTO: Cara Rupe cuts fabric from a wedding gown that will be turned into a baby gown on Saturday at Denton's North Branch Library. She's a volunteer with Angel Gowns of North Texas, which transforms donated wedding gowns into gowns for infants to be buried in.