Since its inception two summers ago, Dress a Girl Wichita has sewed more than 500 dresses for young girls around the world.
And Donna Waterson has been at the heart of the project.
“After I retired I was kind of searching for something that was creative and helpful,” Waterson said. “So then I basically started sewing dresses.”
Waterson learned of the international organization Dress a Girl Around the World, which donates homemade dresses to young girls living in Third World countries, along with pants for boys and blankets for newborns. Since the international organization got its start in 2009, it has donated more than 263,000 dresses.
Waterson turned to her church, Central Christian in east Wichita, for additional volunteers. Fifty women signed up to help.
Twice a month, the women meet in a building behind Waterson’s home that has been transformed into a sewing sanctuary, where they assemble the dresses and pants.
“It’s quite amazing when everybody’s here,” Waterson said. “We just have an amazing time, we really do.”
Children in Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras and a handful of other countries have received the homemade clothing. One trip also delivered dresses and 125 knit hats to a New Mexico Indian reservation.
Four Wichita ministries have agreed to deliver the dresses during mission trips this spring and summer.
Dress a Girl Wichita has also started including small gifts in the pockets of the clothing: Hot Wheels cars for boys and ribbon hair-ties or pocket dolls for girls.
“We have some pictures of these girls’ faces when they’re holding these little dolls,” Waterson said, “and you would think that they were the most amazing gift they’ve ever received.”
The women have also started sewing the organization’s purple and pink label onto the outside of the dresses in order to protect the girls, many of whom are forced to enter the sex trade industry.
“The organization has found that if there’s something a predator assumes they belong to, they’ll leave them alone because there’s some accountability,” Waterson said. “So that’s why we put them out very visible, so that these girls may have some hope of protection.”
Despite the cold temperatures, about a dozen women showed up throughout the day at the group’s meeting earlier this week.
Nancy Ford said she is a long-time member of Central Christian and is doing everything she can to help, even though she is not a “professional seamstress.”
“A lot of times we give money to an organization … but we don’t ever see what they do with the money,” Ford said. “When we see pictures … and we see them with the dresses on, the ones we’ve made, to see somebody with the finished product is very heartwarming.”