Ministry makes 2,000-plus dresses for girls

By Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 1/30/19

ORANGE PARK – When Wendy Keeling joined Pinewood Presbyterian Church four years ago, she set out to become part of a ministry that made a difference in the world.

Wanted to get involved, she …

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Ministry makes 2,000-plus dresses for girls


ORANGE PARK – When Wendy Keeling joined Pinewood Presbyterian Church four years ago, she set out to become part of a ministry that made a difference in the world.

Wanted to get involved, she used her sewing skills to join a ministry called Dress a Girl Around the World, which provides dresses to children in developing countries and impoverished communities in the U.S.

“Not only is this a way to use the skills God has given me to help others around the world and show them His love, but it’s a way to spend time with these wonderful women,” Keeling said.

“What an incredible way to spend a Saturday.”

Keeling and other members of the organization are celebrating a milestone this month after having sewn 2,286 dresses for children in need of appropriate clothing.

Fellow parishioner Holly Scheff started the Dress a Girl Around the World chapter in 2015 with hopes of sewing and shipping dresses to girls in countries around the globe.

“I never thought we’d be what we are today,” Scheff said. “When I first started our group, my goal was just, ‘well, I’ll do this by myself and I’m sure I’ll get some help,’ but as I’ve talked to more and more people, more and more people want to get involved.”

What started as just Scheff and a few other women has grown into Saturday morning gatherings of nearly two dozen women ranging from children to adults. This growth has allowed the dress-making sessions to fulfill acts of charity, but fellowship gatherings as well.

During the group’s Jan. 12, session, women of varying ages talked about what was going on in their life, what upcoming plans they had, what God has done for them lately and more, while they pieced together some piece of the puzzle that becomes a complete and ready-to-ship dress.

Each dress comes with a handmade doll, both of which are delivered by missionaries to girls in 37 countries. While Scheff ships dresses for girls within America, if a dress is headed to a girl in a foreign country, she entrusts missionaries within the greater Jacksonville area to hand-deliver the package.

“They have to be delivered because we don’t want them confiscated and sold,” Scheff said.

Scheff said she prefers when a missionary hand delivers the dresses because it allows for an interaction that might change the girls life. According to Scheff, for many girls, this dress might be the first dress they’ve ever owned. It also allows Scheff and her team of sewing women to see the seeds they’ve sown.

“We always ask the missionaries to take a picture of the girl in the dress so we back home can see,” Scheff said. “Nothing warms your heart more than the smile they always have on their face.”

While these dresses are simple in design, with each costing roughly $10 a piece, there is a lot of love and thought that gets put into each one. Each dress is made in such a way that it can be washed in a source of water such as a river because many of the girls won’t have access to washing machines. Each dress is marked with a Dress a Girl Around the World tag to help prevent the girl from being picked up and placed into slavery or human trafficking.

“When someone sees the tag with the dress, it tells them that the girl belongs somewhere, that she’s cared for, that she has somebody looking out for, and that might stop [a would-be kidnapper] from taking the girl,” Scheff said.

If possible, Scheff said the group tries to send items such as sanitary napkins, underwear and other items a girl might not have access to in her home country.

“Often, these dresses go to the poorest of the poor and we try to help them out in any way we can,” Scheff said.

While a lot of the work happens within Pinewood Presbyterian Church on Knight Boxx Road, a lot of fabric or even full dresses comes from outside the church. For example, one of the group’s busiest dressmakers is a 91-year-old South Carolina woman who sends the group 25 complete dresses every three months. Another woman in Washington state sends the chapter fabric regularly and sometimes, random strangers in stores such as Hobby Lobby or Michael’s offer their help.

Scheff remembers being in a Hobby Lobby with fabric in hand waiting to check out. The woman in line behind her asked what the fabric was for and, after explaining to her what Dress a Girl Around the World is, Scheff was given $10 by the woman to help pay for the fabric.

“It’s little interactions like that one that let you know you’re doing something good in this world,” Scheff said.

One dress came from an unlikely giver recently. Peggy Myers, one of the women who’s been with the chapter since the start, made a dress with her granddaughter a few years ago.

“We have sewing sessions at my house where we make dresses together and one day, we made one for [Myers’ granddaughter, Eleanor Myers],” Myers said.

Naturally, Eleanor grew out of the dress and instead of parting ways with it like any child normally would, she asked her grandmother if she could give it to a girl around the world. Boiling over with excitement, Myers sent the dress off with missionaries who also took a picture of the girl wearing it.

“She shrieked with excitement,” Myers said. “She could see the impact of her work, her benevolence.”

Myers’ sentiment is shared among the group.

“It’s such a blessing to my spirit, to our spirits, to be able to do this and to know that some girl is out in the world is wearing a dress we made, a dress that will hopefully not only keep her safe, but smiling, too,” Keeling said. “That’s what all of this is about.”


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