When the Relief Society Presidency of the Katy Texas Stake was planning their fall social, held in conjunction with the General Women’s Broadcast of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they turned to the JustServe.org site to find meaningful service opportunities.
They selected several projects from the following groups: For the Angel Gowns Foundation organization, they chose to create, from donated wedding gowns, little burial gowns for babies who pass away prior to, or shortly after, birth. For the kids at the Texas Children’s Hospital, they chose to make bright and cheerful pillowcases. And for Books Between Kids, they chose to collect gently-used books, to be given to children in the local area. Seven LDS congregations of women, in the Katy Texas Stake, were asked to find 10 volunteers for each of these service projects so that a total of 70 angel burial gowns, 70 pillowcases, and lots of books could be dropped off at the Women’s Broadcast on September 23rd, and then donated to their various JustServe.org organizations.
Then hurricane Harvey hit and the service project was canceled, in order for LDS members to help with the more immediate needs of hurricane disaster relief in the community. But, one of the congregations had already started working on these service projects.
Angel Gowns – The Nottingham Country Ward took this service request and made it personal. They had two families who had each lost a baby in the last year and both families had been recipients of the beautiful angel burial gowns at the hospital. Daisy and Seth Page lost their daughter, Isabel Rose, October 2016, at 25 weeks. She had lived for only four days. Abby and Wesley Keesler lost their son, Oliver David, February 2017, at 33 weeks, in utero. In honor of baby Isabel and baby Oliver, the Nottingham Country Ward Relief Society sisters and their daughters, set a goal of sewing 50 baby burial gowns and 100 pillowcases. Cutting out these little patterns for the gowns takes time, and many donated wedding dresses are needed. Abby Keesler took on this challenge. The Emmanuel Episcopal Church, where Angel Gowns Foundation meets each month, donated seven bridal gowns for our goal of 70 baby burial gowns. But, as it turned out, that was not enough for what Abby had in mind. Abby is a very talented and experienced seamstress and is also the mother of baby Oliver. This project became a very tender and personal opportunity. Abby said, “this was a way to give back and serve those who had served me and my family and share my talents in the process.” Abby, and her sister-in-law Tiffany Hansen, and other sisters, including Daisy Page, cut these patterns out of additional wedding gowns donated by members of the ward.
Daisy recalled, “When I heard about doing the baby gowns project, I was excited and grateful. After my baby passed away I wanted to do whatever I could to support the charity that had donated the beautiful baby angel gown to our daughter Isabel Rose. I donated my own wedding dress and a few extra ones from friends and family. But having the opportunity to not only donate the wedding dresses but to actually make something beautiful out of them, was a privilege and a blessing. Something that has helped my mama heart continue healing.”
Wedding Dresses – After hundreds of hours of preparation work, cutting out the tiny patterns, the kits were prepared for a sewing day, hosted at Abby’s house in mid- August. More than 30 sisters of the Nottingham Country Ward came that day and on additional days in August. The goal of 50 burial gowns was quickly met, but the efforts did not stop. There were still more donated wedding dresses to cut and the work continued. Barbara Salt, the Relief Society President for the Nottingham Country ward, shared her thoughts when donating her own mother’s wedding gown, “I have been holding onto my mother’s wedding dress for all of these years. I couldn’t part with it until this opportunity came to donate it to this great cause. What joy fills my heart to see her dress bless a grieving family.”
When hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area, shortly after the big sewing day, some sisters who had taken extra kits home with them, kept sewing as the storm brewed. Houston resident, Michelle Schmidt, sewed fifteen gowns during the four-day storm. Michelle exclaimed, “We still had power and were not in danger of initial flooding. But everyone was still nervous, especially with all the tornado and flash flood warnings. I just kept sewing to calm my nerves and focus on something positive!” Abby and her sister-in-law, Tiffany, had to evacuate during the storm but took gowns with them and hand sewed the gowns with buttons, bows and embellishments, as they waited to return to their homes.
In total, the sisters of the Nottingham Country Ward sewed 152 baby burial gowns. These gowns were on display during the Women’s Broadcast, in a spirit of handiwork and reverence for the sweet souls being served. Most of the gowns will be delivered to the Angel Gowns Foundation organization at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church., and Abby and Daisy will take some of the gowns to the hospitals that cared for them when they lost their babies.
Pillowcases – As for the pillowcases, the Texas Children’s Hospital will be receiving over 200 pillowcases. The young women of the Katy Mills Ward each sewed one and the Nottingham Country Ward exceeded their goal and made 183! Some of these pillowcases were sewn by Abby’s young students (ages 8-11) who learned to sew in one of her classes during the summer. Once the girls had the confidence to control the sewing machine and sew straight lines, they sewed pillowcase after pillowcase! Taylor Turner, age 8, shared, “I was looking at all the fabric patterns and thought these children would love them! I had just started sewing lessons that summer and it felt so good to share my new talent.”
Books – And the goal to collect over seventy books for Books Between Kids was exceeded and will allow children without books to attend a book fair where they will be encouraged to choose eight books apiece to take home.
With all the service rendered during Hurricane Harvey, these tender acts of service complimented all the Mormon Helping Hands efforts. Katy Stake Relief Society President, Kim Higbee, stated “It is hard to imagine what it must be like to lose a baby, to admit a child into the hospital, or to be without funds for children’s books. But, our sisters have derived great joy in knowing that something quite small on their giving end, might bring a measure of peace and joy to someone else on the receiving end of that service. And I’m sure we are all thankful when we can be on the giving end of that spectrum.”
Photos by: Abby Keesler and Lindsay Harper