ESHC help Little Dresses for Africa

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Special to Dorchester Banner/littledressesforafrica.org
Little Dresses for Africa come in all sizes, colors, and designs. They are made by volunteers all over the world and distributed to countries with children in need.

CAMBRIDGE — “It gives you a good feeling to help other people – especially those in Africa.” That’s what Gary S. says and he means it with all his heart. Gary resides at the Eastern Shore Hospital Center (ESHC) and has been an indispensable part of an international nonprofit organization called Little Dresses for Africa. Volunteers world-wide create simple little dresses and britches that are distributed through orphanages, villages and schools as “little Ambassadors all over the world to plant in the hearts of little girls (and boys) that they are worthy.”

The dresses are much more than just something to wear according to the group’s mission. During distribution volunteers also teach lessons on nutrition, clean water and sanitation. The original goal of the organization was to take 1,000 dresses to Malawi. Now over 2 million dresses for girls and britches for boys have been sent all over Africa and other countries in need. And ESHC is a part of the effort.

Cristi Schmidt, registered nurse and Treatment Mall Coordinator at the hospital, says “We learned about this project on line and asked if it was something I could teach the patients how to do because I’ve been sewing for years.”

Judy Slaughter, ESHC coordinator of Volunteer Services loved the idea and immediately reached out to the community. The Cambridge Quilting Guild donated over 101 yards of fabric and the project was off and running. Cristi explains, “Some we couldn’t use for this project but we have it for our next project – lap quilts for the nursing homes.” She pre-sews at home and has brought her sewing machine to work for her little group to use. That will not be necessary any more. Thanks to a generous grant from the Queen Anne’s County Mental Health Committee the hospital purchased three new sewing machines.

The sewing group is small but effective. “It’s just a handful of them,” Cristi says. Two women and Gary. I was so proud of Gary because he always thought about the older girls whereas I was more drawn to the little tiny girls.” It is obvious that Gary thinks the world of Cristi. He says, “I never sewed before and Cristi helped me. She gives us her guiding hand to show us how to do things.” Judy adds, “It is part of a Treatment Mall project and he just took to it. He is very meticulous about anything he does.”

Cristi agrees. “Gary didn’t mind taking something out and re-doing it if it didn’t look right to him even though we might say ‘it’s alright, we can fix it.’ Gary always wants to fix it right now. He’s the best student. I enjoy having him in the group.”

No project seems insurmountable to the folks at ESHC. The Thanksgiving tree morphed into the Christmas tree festooned with hand sewn decorations of pearls and lace on denim stars. “We came up with a western theme for the tree because we had a lot of blue jeans donated,” Cristi explains.

Gary has worked on several other projects as well. He made pieces using Hill House clay excavated in Easton and represents the oldest free African American neighborhood in the U.S. He has made lighthouses, wind chimes, worked on the centerpieces for the Fashion Show, grown tomatoes, and propagated boxwood in the Center’s greenhouse. The projects are part of the program but Judy says “We like to think these are also skills development.”

Gary is “a very quick learner, according to Cristi. “And,” she says, “I can always count on him.”

“This is my first time actually doing something to help other people,” he explains. “That meant a lot to me.” At the end of the project ESHC sent 30 handmade dresses to Africa and several pairs of shorts.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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