Tribune Print Share Text

Sharing their talents, spreading hope

Sewing group makes dresses for underprivileged girls around the world

Created date

June 26th, 2014
woman holding up a little girl's dress they made

Seamstresses at Grove, Erickson Living’s community in Delaware County, Pa., have sent nearly 600 pillowcase-style dresses to clothe girls in impoverished areas such as Uganda, Liberia, Kenya, Honduras, India, and Appalachia. 

Maris Grove resident Judy Baldwin started a Little Dresses for Africa group after hearing about the organization on NBC Nightly News. The national group, headquartered in Michigan, collects and sends dresses to African nations and beyond.

More meaningful

“Our Maris Grove group has been fortunate to ship our dresses directly through local church missionary groups,” says Judy. Sending the dresses via local church groups adds a personal element, making it extra meaningful.

Jean Holveck and Barbara Hoover are among the faithful seamstresses who delight in fashioning the clothes. 

“I do it because the girls have so little,” Jean says. “Making dresses does as much for me as it does the kids.”

Last year, when Jean’s daughter and her family made a mission trip to Guatemala, a stack of dresses went with them. 

This February, one of Maris Grove’s own, Staff Development Manager Lauri Cunningham, personally delivered 150 dresses during a mission trip with TEAL, a local nonprofit group whose name stands for its own mission, To Empower A Life. 

TEAL mission teams always return to the same village, Villa Ascension, in the Dominican Republic. The dresses Cunningham brought helped stock a thrift shop the team established during the trip. 

Members of Cunningham’s church, Concord Liberty Presbyterian, were already sewing pillowcase dresses as part of a 2013 community service day project when Cunningham told them about her trip. 

They immediately gave her more than 100 dresses to take along. When Cunningham told Judy about her trip, Judy donated another armload. 

Fashioning dresses from love

Maris Grove seamstresses make the dresses in every size and a rainbow of colors. 

Barbara creates hers from her stash of fabrics, and she always adds pockets.

The Hoovers’ second bedroom is her sewing room. A 17-year quilter, she has an ample supply of material. 

“I love fabric and color,” Barbara says. “And I recently came into a treasure trove of fabrics that I’ve dedicated to the dresses.” 

An outside-the-box thinker, when her fabric pieces are on the small side, she simply sews them together to fashion striped dresses. 

Jean Holveck makes her dresses from pillowcases. 

Jean keeps her sewing machine in the walk-in closet of the Holvecks’ master bedroom and likes to sew on their dining room table. The couple’s second bedroom houses their computer setup and digital piano. 

She loves the two-bedroom, two-bathroom, Kingston-style apatment they chose. “I want to do fun things, not clean house,” Jean says. 

The women agree that making dresses is definitely a fun thing. But more than that, they sew a little love into every dress they make. 

“We not only give the children clothing,” Judy says. “We let them know there are people who want to help. We give them hope.”

The website has a pattern and directions for making the dresses. Go to for information about the organization.