Most of the textile mills in the area shut down years ago, but a new one pops up every other Tuesday morning on South Franklin Street when Calvary Baptist Church’s “Women in Missions” (WMU) group gathers to sew clothing destined for Ugandan orphans and child prisoners.
Tables in Calvary’s fellowship hall are temporarily equipped with portable sewing machines, a thread-trimming and finishing station, a piece-goods table and trim table while the kitchen island houses the pressing department and one of the longer granite counters is repurposed as a cutting table.
The most popular style in this impromptu factory is a little girl’s sundress gathered at the top with binding that ties in a bow at the shoulders, made in sizes from infant to teen. Some of the dresses are up-cycled from pillowcases and others are cut from piece goods the workers contribute from their fabric stashes.
Between 13 and 15 women attend the work sessions. Tuesday’s session was a mix of Calvary members and friends from outside the church. Others work at home and send in completed dresses.
Midway through Tuesday’s session, 71 dresses had been completed toward a goal of 100. Money is also being collected to buy flip flops for the children and tee shirts and shorts for boys.
The project began when Sandra Byrd’s granddaughter, Meredith Byrd, graduated from seminary in December and began a one-year internship with a Christian-based non-profit called Sixty Feet. Meredith Byrd described the vision of Sixty Feet to her grandparents in an email as “bringing hope and restoration to the imprisoned children of Africa in Jesus’s name.”
Meredith Byrd further explains the work of Sixty Feet:
“Sixty Feet works in the national children’s prison in Uganda where there are children from ages 12-18. We also work in remand homes which is where children, who are in conflict with the law, stay while they are in the process of going through court.
“We also go into a government-run orphanage with children below 12 years old. These children are lost, abandoned, found living on the street, or just need somewhere safe to go.”
Byrd said, “Sixty Feet has a medical team, social workers, counselors and other staff that minister to these children and show them the love of Jesus. Sixty Feet works to trace for the children’s families and resettle them back at home after they serve their time in prison. Many of the children are put in prison for theft, murder or even just begging on the streets. Our Ugandan and American staff work to counsel these kids and teach them life skills.”
Sherry Hiatt was the first of the group to suggest getting involved. Hiatt is hesitant to take credit but finally admits, “I brought it up first.” Then the whole church donated and Sunday School classes got involved. Things grew from there.
John and Lisa Byrd, Sandra Byrd’s son and his wife, are going to Uganda in the fall and will carry the completed dresses and purchased clothing and shoes. Nothing, not even local corruption on another continent, will prevent the ladies of Calvary from doing their best to help out orphans and imprisoned Ugandan children.
According to the SixtyFeet.org website, there are approximately 2.5 million orphans in Uganda, with over a million of them a direct result of AIDS. Median age in the country is 15 and as many as one in six children under the age of 17 is orphaned.
Their lives are bleak, but for at least 100 of them this fall, their lives will be brightened by a spiffy new dress sewn with love halfway around the world in a town that still knows a thing or two about textiles.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.