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Nebraska woman donates pillowcase dresses to those in need

February 3, 2019

KENESAW, Neb. (AP) — As a former public health worker, mother of three grown children and farm wife, Mary Augustin of Kenesaw found herself wanting for some sort of meaningful activity to benefit others.

So when she came across an article about women making pillowcase dresses for the less fortunate, she was sure she found her calling. The only catch: She doesn’t sew. Likewise, her friends at church whom she thought could help her launch the project were either lacking the skills or time to do it.

That’s when she turned her recruiting efforts toward a group of women living at the Regency Retirement Residence where her father, Robert Breetzke, resides. And with that, the local pillowcase dress outreach was born.

The group of seven — which on occasion includes additional volunteers — meets at the retirement residence each month to fashion the pillowcase dresses. They are then donated to Orphan Grain Train in Grand Island for distribution to girls living in developing countries. Since coming together in winter of 2017, the group has made 200 dresses for girls who otherwise may never have had a dress to call their own. And that, Augustin told the Hastings Tribune , is what makes the project so rewarding to her.

“You just feel like you are making a difference,” she said. “It’s a perfect project for me, even though I don’t sew. I was hoping they would show me how to sew! I’m going to make them teach me one of these days.

“They let me do the elastic and cut some of the pillowcases. One lady embellishes everything and three or four of them take them back to their rooms and sew them throughout the month.”

Even Breetzke has shown interest in helping out, though his contribution to date mostly has been moral support.

“He mentioned he might cut some elastic at some point,” Augustin said. “He comes down, makes me make coffee, views what we’ve done and tells us we’ve done a nice job. I’m still working on him.”

Retired schoolteacher Mary Ann Niemoth of Hastings has created quite a buzz among the group since joining them about six months ago. She has been making mission trips to developing countries for nearly two decades and is taking 100 dresses with her as she heads on her next adventure to Tanzania.

“It’s wonderful that she (Niemoth) will be bringing back pictures of the children actually wearing the dresses,” said Mary Jeanne Cooke, one of four women who sews dresses for the group. “We’ve been giving them mostly to Orphan Grain Train, but you don’t really know where they are actually sending them. So seeing where they’re going and to see them worn is fun.”

Having sewn numerous dresses for her three now-grown daughters and quilts for loved ones has made Cooke an ideal match to bring the dresses to completion.

“I really like doing it,” she said. “I’m sort of a non-professional quilter, so I just love scrap fabric and putting different color bias tape on fabric.”

Group member Sally Smith is a Hastings native and Regency resident. Also an accomplished seamstress, she said she likes how volunteers of all skill levels are able to contribute to the project.

“It does not involve just everyone who knows how to sew,” she said. “Everyone can join in making the dresses. Some just cut the elastic and some the sleeves. The ones who sew take them home and sew them on the machine.”

Learning to make the dresses was a cinch for the group, Smith said. Members now embellish on the original design, adding personal touches to make each dress unique and special.

“It’s gotten to the point where some of us sew buttons on or decorate them with rickrack (trim) or lace, just to make them more fun for the girls,” Smith said.

The end result is magical to those who receive them, Augustin said.

“They’re really wonderful-looking,” she said of the dresses. “We’ve noticed that no two are alike.

“We just have a great time. We feel like we’re giving back to a group that really needs it.”

And while the women set impeccable standards for themselves, their donated materials sometimes fall short of what they would prefer to work with under ideal circumstances. Yet even an imperfect dress fashioned from an imperfect pillowcase is one that will be cherished by a girl who has never owned one, Augustin said.

“They have absolutely nothing,” she said. “If the material is too thin or stained, it doesn’t matter to them. They all turn out gorgeous.”

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Information from: Hastings Tribune, http://www.hastingstribune.com

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