by Dan McClelland
The Tupper Lake chapter of the international organization, Dress a Girl Around the World, boasts of some dedicated and hard-working members whose hearts are behind their needles and threads.
“Imagine a world where every girl owned a least one dress,” is the international organization's motto.
Librarian Peg Mauer, who is a leader of Tupper Lake's chapter, told the story of the initiative to the members of the Tupper Lake Lions Club in recent weeks.
The way it works, friends, co-workers, church group members, families get together for a night of sewing once a week or once a month or once a season and sew dresses for underprivileged girls in poor countries around the world.
Proponents say that providing a new dress to some girl without one can change that girl's destiny. Women everywhere know that a new dress makes them feel good. So imagine never having had one! A new dress tells each girl that God loves them and that someone else loves them too- and enough to have made a dress for them. That often makes a difference in how the recipient feels about herself.
Pastors in poor countries around the world report that a girl wearing a new dress presents the appearance she is well care for and may discourage would-be predators, who typically prey on these victims. A “Dress A Girl” label is attached to the outside of each new dress. It apparently sends an additional message that each girl is under the care of an organization, giving her a layer added protection from those who would seek to harm her like predators and human traffickers.
In this modern day and age, it's incredible how prevalent human slavery is.
“It's like a little badge of protection,” Mrs. Mauer noted that evening.
The effort is part of the ministry of Hope 4 Women International, which if funded solely by tax-deductible donations given by supporters in this country and around the world. The ministry is based in Forest City, Iowa.
Mrs. Mauer told the Lions she learned about the organization about ten years ago when her sister was making dresses for a large chapter in the Rochester area.
Peg asked her sister to come to Tupper Lake to talk with a group of local women interested in forming a chapter.
“We started making dresses in the spring of 2014 in Long Lake. Our goal there was a 100 dresses and we accomplished that.
A group of amateur seamstresses started meeting in Tupper Lake in October of 2018.
“The goal of Dress a Girl around the world is to provide dresses for little girls who have none!” These are mostly girls from Third World countries.”
She distributed photos of little girls- many of them orphans- wearing little else but a couple of pieces of frayed cloth, literally held together with threads.
“By making dresses for them they look like they are cared for.” She said that has a tendency to dissuade potential perpetrators who might grab and enslave them.
“They look nice...they must belong to someone...I better not mess with her,” is what a criminal might think, she explained to the Lions.
“It really does reduce human trafficking!”
Mrs. Mauer brought along with her to the Pine Grove Restaurant that meeting sample of dresses the local group has fashioned.
“We make dresses for girls six months old all the way up to size 14,” she explained.
Many of the recipients are young black girls. “So we try to use fabric that is substantial and not flimsy.” She said that way when the dresses get wet they are neither clingy or revealing.
She said the organization's biggest challenges are shipping and distribution to needy children.
“So when we learn someone in our community is going somewhere” outside normal tourist destinations “we ask if they could take some dresses in their luggage.”
Such was the case recently when dresses were carried by Maureen Peroza on a recent trip she took to Haiti.
“In October our ladies were really cranking out the dresses...it was amazing. In November we learned that the Tupper Lake Baptist Chapel each year sends out these Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes carrying footwear and other materials for different-sized boys and girls.”
The volunteers at the church agreed to send out the tiny dresses in the shoe boxes. “They just wadded them up and tucked them in!”
“That took care of 38 dresses we made in October and November.”
She said she later learned that Maureen was going to Haiti on a mission to help poor children there and 64 dresses went along with her.
She brought with her that evening pictures of the local retired elementary school teacher distributing the dresses to needy girls in that impoverished nation that shares its Caribbean island with the more prosperous Dominican Republic.
Many of the dresses, she said, are distributed through missionaries working in poor countries around the world.
Maureen, upon her return from Haiti, told Peg that with presentation of a dress often comes the blessing: “I bless you with this dress. May it keep you safe and bring you joy!”
Typically the distribution of the dresses go through local missionaries who know of the needs in each place.
Mrs. Mauer said her chapter doesn't care where the dresses go, only that they find young girls who need them.
“So when I approached Maureen she told me she was going to the Haitian Island of le Gonave. Her program is called 'Days for Girls.'”
The aim of that program is to provide absorbent cloth materials used by girls for menstrual purposes so they are not banished once a month to what are called “red tents,” she told the Lions.
Peg said Mrs. Peroza was delighted to take the local group's dresses on her mission visit.
Mrs. Mauer said that their organization ships finished dresses instead of donating sewing machines and fabric so people could make their own clothing. She explained that most of these countries are “so dirt poor” there are neither the facilities nor the electricity to make dresses.
“There are so many barriers right now” for these impoverished people to make their own clothing, she added.
In Haiti, for example, many people are homeless and spend their days when the tide is out on on the beach, often called the salt flats. Tarps and tents give them temporary shelter from the sun. They must move in from the beach when the tide returns.
“That's where the poorest of the poor live in Haiti. They have no homes, no jobs...nothing!”
Many dresses from Dress A Girl go each year to impoverished countries on the African continent. Missionaries, individuals like Maureen and humanitarian teams hand carry the dresses there.
Mrs. Mauer said she has been asked how the chapters can make enough dresses to clothe the millions of young women around the world living in stark poverty.
“Dress A Girl starts with one girl at a time,” she said of its overall mission. “It makes a big difference to those girls who do not own a dress!”
In Tupper Lake's chapter, most of the fabric is donated. Members often canvass the local thrift shops in search of good quality fabric to buy. It's often a dollar a bag, said Mary Sojda, a local Lion who is one of Tupper's dress-makers.
The dresses made here take about an hour to cut out the fabric and sew the pieces together. Often added are decorative pieces around the neckline or on the sleeves to make them pretty. Pockets and elastic waist bands are sometimes added too.
Mrs. Mauer said the members also put together bags with all the materials needed to create a dress. They are used by some volunteers who like to make their creations at home.
Around the country, chapter members often make dresses for American girls living in impoverished sections of the nation like some of the Native American reservations in the southwest and for people in Appalachia.
This organization is devoted to the needs of poor girls. There are other ministries that cater to poor young boys.
The local chapter will meet on Saturday, March 30 from 10a.m. to 4p.m. at the Goff Nelson Memorial Library for its next dress-making session. Everyone interested in helping is invited.
People may bring pieces of sturdy cotton fabric with them, if they wish, as well as cutting wheels and surgers.
Participants should bring a sandwich for lunch and soup will be provided.