For going on three years, Big Island women have been sewing up a storm, generating an avalanche of loving kindness in the form of simple handmade dresses for girls in impoverished areas of the world.
Volunteers islandwide invite the public to learn more about this hands-on network at a special presentation at Kamana Center at 127 Kamana St. in Hilo from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday.
Dress a Girl volunteers would love your help, and no sewing experience is required to attend. Light refreshments will be served. Harmony on Tap will perform and a short video will be shown of children singing and dancing while wearing dresses made by folks far away who care, and share.
“Learn how easy it is to make a dress and make a difference,” said volunteer Jeanette Laris.
The international project — Dress a Girl around the World, which is part of “Hope4Women International,” a nonprofit organization — got its Big Island start at the parishes of St. Michael the Archangel in Kailua-Kona and St. Joseph’s in Hilo, where Mary Freitas and Sharon Paopao led the first group of seven volunteer sewers and cutters in 2011.
Together they made 125 dresses, all from donated fabric and materials and all created from a pattern so simple: A pillow case, some elastic and some bias tape are all that’s needed. Throw in a bit of rick-rack or ribbon, and you have more than a dress; you have a pretty dress, one any little girl would be proud to wear.
For girls who have never owned anything new, whose clothes all come from rag bags, shipped from secondhand clothes dealers in the U.S., a new dress is very special.
“It isn’t just the dress that is important,” explained Laris. “It is the increased feelings of self-worth and dignity the dresses give these girls.”
Children who look well cared for are less apt to be abducted or seen as easy targets by those who prey on the vulnerable children of the world, she added.
In November of 2011, the Family and Community Education Hilo Council voted to make Dress a Girl a council project.
Laris, of Hilo’s Ho‘ike Club, and Betty Burlile of the Kailua-Kona community are leading the charge, sewing dresses, collecting donations, teaching and encouraging volunteers.
Cutting parties were organized, where “dress kits” are cut, bagged and marked in sizes from 6 months to pre-teen. The kits are distributed to club and church groups as well as individual volunteers to turn into pretty new dresses.
By 2012, the Dress a Girl project had spread islandwide. Susan Hicks and the Keaau Center for Spiritual Living made and donated 152 dresses. Sewing instructors Roberta Mueller and Mariah Bath (Kilauea Kreations) made 61 dresses between them.
Betty Burlile’s Kailua group and the sewers from St. Joseph Church, the Hilo community and FCE have continued to sew and donate supplies and money to Dress a Girl.
Alvin Araki of Hilo raised more than $300 for the project by selling lychee at FCE’s rummage sale and St. Joseph’s Church. He and fellow International Rotarian Gabriel Trias Jr. distributed 60 dresses to Bagbag Elementary School in Rosario, Cavite, the Philippines, in August during devastating flooding. Francis Delacruz, a physical therapist at Life Care Center of Hilo, shipped more than 300 dresses to his parents in Dagupan City, Panyasinan, the Philippines, for distribution to girls in their community.
All told, in 2012, Big Island volunteers were able to send more than 3,000 Dress a Girl dresses around the world, to Cambodia, the Philippines, Guatemala, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.
Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Nigeria, and to Operation Christmas Child’s Shoebox project.
In March 2012, a delegation from Mayor Billy Kenoi delivered another 100 Dress a Girl dresses to typhoon-ravaged Ormoc, Hilo’s sister city in the Philippines.
Dress a Girl’s motto is “Because every girl deserves at least one new dress,” said Laris.