By JENNIFER MEIER
MIDDLEBURY — Right beside Gloria Martin’s bed is a pencil and pad of paper. From experience, she knows that sometimes in the middle of the night or in the early morning hours the most inspiring ideas and thoughts can come.
One of these ideas, in fact just one word, came into her thought one night in early spring, and she almost ignored it.
“I woke up with this one word — pillowcase,” Martin said. “I guess I first thought that I should lay my head back down on the pillowcase and go back to sleep!”
But the word kept coming. And in the morning, she did what anyone with a computer might do — she Googled the word “pillowcase.”
Among thousands of results, one stood out.
“Dress A Girl Around the World just jumped off the page,” Martin said. “It became an opportunity to do something helpful and positive for little girls all over the globe, including right here in the United States.”
This international not-for-profit functions under the auspices of Hope 4 Women, a 501(c) 3 organization that works to educate and empower women with businesses of their own.
For Martin, it was hard to imagine that so many girls all over the world have never owned a dress. Even more shocking, the dress they could receive from the organization might be the only gift they receive in their entire lives.
An expert seamstress and an intricate pattern aren’t needed. Just a colorful new pillowcase, a length of elastic, bias tape and bit of rick-rack or ribbon along with a very basic knowledge of sewing are all that’s needed.
From the two dresses that Martin made, came an idea that has grown to include several local churches, a retirement community, businesses associates, neighbors, friends and employees at the Middlebury Ace Hardware that Martin and her husband Larry own.
“My goal is to have 2,000 dresses by the end of August!” Martin said. “I’ve found that people like to be a part of things. I am constantly looking for more people and groups to become involved.”
Sewing groups from First Mennonite Church in Middlebury and River View Church in White Pigeon, Mich., have already held all-day sewing get-togethers to create pillowcase dresses.
Working in an assembly line of sorts, the groups have made between 65 to 100 dresses each to help meet the goal.
Fifteen-year-old Harlee Bontrager of Middlebury heard about the project through her mom.
“She saw the dresses at Ace Hardware and told me about Dress A Girl Around the World,” Bontrager said. “I like to sew, so I made two dresses. It only takes about an hour to make a dress.”
From there, Suzanne Glass, a fellow member at River View, organized a sewing party.
“We are really excited about doing this,” Glass said. “We are putting pockets on the dresses and including note cards with Bible verses. We want these little girls to know that someone cares about them.”
The members of First Mennonite Church in Middlebury also included Scripture written on vintage cards supplied by one of the volunteers.
The Scripture and the dresses help the girls to know they are cared for, and the labels sewed on the outside of the back of the dresses help everyone else to know that, too.
“We have heard that when people see these labels, they know the children are cared for and they are less likely to be abducted or taken advantage of,” Martin said.
Martin said sewing groups are easy to organize, Dress A Girl Around the World providing detailed information on everything from how to choose a pillowcase to measuring, cutting and sewing, as well as advice on how to plan, entertain and feed volunteers.
“Even if you don’t sew at all, you can still bring in a pillowcase and we will see that it is transformed into a beautiful little dress,” Martin said.
For more information, visit www.dressagirlaroundtheworld.com or stop by Ace Hardware in Middlebury on the corner of Ind. 13 and U.S. 20.