Year of Mercy shines at parish’s ‘Dress a Girl’ event

Project aims to sew dresses for girls around world

MARINETTE — Inspired by Pope Francis, members of Holy Family Parish and other volunteers spent the day Jan. 30 making dresses for poor girls around the world. The sewing bee, sponsored by the parish altar society, supported a project called “Dress a Girl Around the World.”

Mary Falkenberg, altar society president and event coordinator, said the response for volunteer dress makers was overwhelming, especially in this Year of Mercy.

Mary Falkenberg, center, Holy Family Parish altar society president, thanks volunteers during the society’s “Dress a Girl Around the World” event. The volunteers made dresses that will be sent around the world to help clothe young girls. (Tom Beschta | For The Compass)

“I had people call and ask if they could be a part of this and once I said yes they said, ‘But you don’t even know who I am,’” Falkenberg said. “I told them it doesn’t matter, just come. We are all coming with a Christian heart to help these girls.”

Dress a Girl Around the World was founded by Rachel Eggum Cinader in 2009 with the goal of making and delivering dresses to underprivileged girls. A part of Hope 4 Women International, the organization has helped deliver over 300,000 dresses to 81 countries.

Falkenberg first became aware of the organization a year and a half ago after reading an article in Mary Jane Magazine. Already feeling inspired by the article, Falkenberg said a message from Pope Francis truly called her to get involved.

“I heard Pope Francis talking about the Year of Mercy and the corporal works of mercy and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is so perfect for a corporal work, clothing the naked. How could we not do this as a parish?’” Falkenberg said.

A member of Holy Family her whole life, Falkenberg brought the idea back to the parish Altar Society and asked if there was interest in the program. The answer was a resounding yes and Falkenberg began planning and collecting materials.

Everything for the dresses, including the fabric, ribbon and rickrack, was donated for the cause. The materials that were used, including 100 percent cotton fabric, are meant to provide girls, age 7 to 12, a quality outfit that will last them a number of years.

“We just want little girls to be little girls,” Falkenberg said. “It is all about modesty and protecting them that way.”

Gina Thompson, left, of Oconto, and Karen Rasmussen of Marinette work together to iron cloth for Holy Family Parish’s sewing bee event Jan. 30. (Tom Beschta | For The Compass)

While Falkenberg was excited to begin work planning the event, there was a moment of hesitation for her.

“Everyone said they were ready to be involved, but then I said, ‘Wait a minute, I can’t sew,’” Falkenberg joked.

Luckily, that was not a problem. As Falkenberg began to promote the event, she received numerous calls from volunteers ready to donate their time and skills to the cause. In the end, 50 volunteers showed up to the event to lend a hand.

The volunteers included eight youth members of Holy Family Parish, who will be traveling to the Steubenville Youth Conference in St. Paul, Minn., in July. Jim Margetta, who is coordinating the trip, said this type of volunteer work helps the kids gain support while teaching them a valuable lesson.

“It’s through programs like this that the kids really get a feel for how fortunate we are and what God has blessed us with,” Margetta said. “They want to share their talents and time with others. They are helping little girls who have never had a dress before in their life, while they themselves probably have a bunch. This helps them recognize things like that.”

For Kailyn Chenier, 14, volunteering for Dress a Girl was a way to improve the future for kids elsewhere.

“It helps knowing that the girls can get the dresses that we have made and that they will have nice stuff,” Chenier said. “I just hope to be a better person and help more with the church.”

Other volunteers came to help from neighboring communities, including Oconto and Menominee, Mich.

“My New Year’s resolution was to do something special for someone else every month,” said Barbara Kontny, of Holy Spirit in Menominee, Mich. “I was originally going to do Meals on Wheels, but I injured my foot. Then I saw this program and thought it was such a good cause, I had to get involved.”

“I’ve had so many calls from people I’ve never met asking how to get involved and telling me how much they love the idea, so it has just been a wonderful response,” Falkenberg said. “People just picked up their sewing machines and came over.”

Falkenberg said the dresses will likely be shipped around April or May, and then distributed by missionaries traveling the world. In the meantime, volunteers can continue to make dresses at home with kits provided by the Altar Society. Falkenberg will also be collecting donations of child- and girl-sized underwear and T-shirts, as well as medium-sized Ziploc bags. Monetary donations are also being accepted.

Moving ahead, Falkenberg said they may consider expanding the program, inviting more volunteers and creating clothing for young boys as well.

“There is something beautiful about not knowing where the dresses are going,” Falkenberg added. “As we finish each dress, we are going to gather around it and just say a prayer for the little girl that is going to wear it to say God bless you and we love you.”