by Cindy Novak–
For generations Lutheran women have used their skills as quilters, knitters and fabric artists to serve others. Perhaps most famously, they have sewn quilts for Lutheran World Relief, providing warmth and comfort to those facing poverty, conflict and disaster around the globe.
Yet quilting is not the only way women across the church have used their sewing skills to make a positive impact. From sewing menstruation kits for girls around the world, to making blankets for children affected by illness, to creating custom dolls for children who have physical differences, Lutheran women draw upon boundless creativity and generosity.
To commemorate National Sewing Month this September, here are some creative examples of how women, men and children across the ELCA help those in need through needle, thread and a passion for making a difference.
THE FROG PROJECT
Since 2004 members of Hope Lutheran Church in Rolla, Missouri, have been making plush toy FROGs (for Fully Rely on God) for children and adults with serious illnesses. The congregation has given more than 1,000 huggable, 16-inch FROGs to children, teens and adults. Over the years, they’ve also distributed FROGs to hospitals, a summer camp for children with cancer and other groups.
Elizabeth Schluemer and Linda Larson cut, assemble and sew the frog pattern pieces. Hope members, including including children, help stuff them throughout the year. They use soft fleece fabric with patterns that reflect a recipient’s personality, hobby or favorite color. Each “Fully Rely on God” tag includes a verse from Matthew 17:20: “If you have faith as tiny as a mustard seed…nothing will be impossible for you.”
“One of our members who is a volunteer at a cancer center tells me the FROGs are the favorite item on the cart,” Elizabeth says. “She told me about a patient who did not speak to anyone, but when he received a FROG, he started talking. He opened up.”
Dozens of FROG recipients have written thank-you notes over the years. “The FROG sent to my dad before his passing was very precious and always near him,” wrote a woman named Kristina. “My mom shared it with every visitor, making sure they knew its purpose. I am so honored to have a FROG of my own and fully appreciate your loving thoughts and prayers. Thank you!”
Members carry out the FROG Project in memory of Terri Bruner, Hope Lutheran Church’s pianist, who died of colon cancer in 2004. “Terri gave FROGs to other cancer patients when she went for her own treatments,” Elizabeth says. “It’s a motivation. We want to keep the FROG Project going—it was such a wonderful idea of hers.”
Since 2000, members of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Marietta, Georgia, and St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Thornton, Colorado, have made a total of more than 2,500 fleece tie-blankets and crocheted afghans for Project Linus, which donates the blankets to children impacted by serious illness and trauma. These blankets have gone to hospitals, shelters, children’s homes and police departments.
Project Linus has become a multi-generational activity at Resurrection, with some members donating material, and others helping cut and tie the blankets. Those who have helped include members of a women’s group, members of a Bible study group, a Boy Scout troop, other children and families. The congregation made blankets as part of “God’s Work Our Hands” Sunday. “We even had the pastor help tie the blankets in between services,” says Marge Mynheir, who helped start Resurrection’s blanket-making events.
“It is reassuring to know that the blankets will comfort a child who could be losing a parent or facing some type of medical emergency,” Marge says. “I look at this as an outreach—it is something I enjoy doing that helps someone else.”
Before packing and shipping the blankets, members of both congregations drape them over the altar railings and pews for a blessing by the pastor. “To walk in and see all of those blankets and realize all of the loving hands that created them is special,” Marge says.
“It’s something that I can do,” says Rosemary Stover, a St. John’s member. “I’m not creative any other way. I can’t draw; I can’t sing; I can’t write stories; but I can crochet. I can make blankets. It’s something I like to do and there’s a need for it.”
A DOLL LIKE ME
Through “A Doll Like Me,” Amy Jandrisevits makes custom dolls that not only capture a child’s ethnicity, gender, hair color and interests, but also their physical characteristics such as clefts, birthmarks, scars and limb differences.
As a social worker working in a pediatric oncology unit, Amy used dolls during play therapy sessions to help young cancer patients express their thoughts and feelings. “In play therapy, you want the child to project him or herself onto the doll,” she says. “When you lay a blonde-haired, blue-eyed doll on the lap of an African American child who is bald from chemotherapy, the child cannot connect—it’s not them.”
Disappointed in the lack of diversity in dolls, Amy, a member of Cross Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, launched “A Doll Like Me” four years ago. Since then she has created more than 300 dolls for children in countries around the globe, including Israel, Venezuela and South Africa. The dolls have made a positive impact on the children who receive them, Amy says. “It is more than just a doll to a child—it is a representation of the child who owns it,” she says.
Amy recalls how one girl with a limb difference said: “The doll makes me feel really special because not everyone gets a doll made to look exactly like them. It makes me feel like I’m not so alone. When I have secrets, and I can’t tell anyone else, I tell her.”
“The girl was old enough to logically understand it was just a doll. But for the very innocent part of her, it was something that captured her—it was her.”
Amy considers “A Doll Like Me” a ministry. “As Christians, we’re called to action. There are [many] Bible verses that say, ‘Get up and go.’ Jesus himself said get up and do something, whatever your gift may be. We’re obligated to each other—that’s what a community does. We take care of each other.”
“It is so humbling… The fact that [these families] allow me into something so intimate is amazing,” Amy adds.
DAYS FOR GIRLS
Members of ELCA congregations in Minnesota and Wisconsin help girls in El Salvador attend school and participate in their communities on the days they have their period.
They create the components for reusable menstrual hygiene kits through Days for Girls International, an organization that offers menstrual care solutions, health education and income-generation opportunities.
“Before, they didn’t have hygiene supplies to prevent them from bleeding through their clothing,” says Debrah Adams, a member of Hope Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. “They say they can go to school every day now because they have a kit.”
Designed to last three years, the kit comes in a colorful, patterned cotton drawstring bag and includes two pairs of panties, waterproof shields, absorbent liners, a washcloth, a bar of soap and an instruction sheet. The kit also includes a gallon-size resealable bag that girls can use to wash the components when adding soap and water.
Debrah, her husband, Bob, and other volunteers travel once a year to El Salvador to distribute the kits and conduct “charlas,” or education discussions on various health topics, such as menstruation, through Mission of Healing, a health education organization the Adamses founded.
A sewing group at French River Lutheran Church, Duluth, Minnesota, which includes congregation members and others from the community, has met once a month over the past three years to create components for roughly 200 menstruation kits.
“Our little group has a wonderful time working together, talking, laughing and sharing stories of our lives,” said Carol Surine, a member of French River. “We often talk about the girls whose lives we touch in a most intimate way. We recall our first periods and how anxious we were. And then we try to imagine having nothing, no way to manage our biology, no way to let us stay in school. We are incredibly grateful to be able to help girls grow up into educated women, because the educated woman is the best hope for our future, for all of us.”
Through Sew Powerful, those attending Women of the ELCA’s Triennial Gathering in 2020 can use their sewing skills to help girls living in Zambia. During a pre-event activity, attendees can create purses that will contain reusable feminine hygiene products.
“Having supplies needed to manage monthly periods is life-changing for girls,” says Dana Buck, a board member of Sew Powerful, a non-profit that combats extreme poverty in Ng’ombe Compound in Lusaka, Zambia. The organization equips community members with jobs, training, tools and technical skills to make the purses, reusable feminine hygiene pads and other “purposeful products” such as school uniforms and soap.
“In the absence of menstruation hygiene supplies, girls in the developing world stay home from school,” Buck says. “When a girl does not go on in their education, the odds of her being trafficked, marrying early, getting pregnant or becoming HIV-positive are astronomically higher than if that girl is able to continue with her education. When you put the supplies in the hands of thousands of girls, you’re definitely going to make a difference in how they perform in school.”
Sew Powerful, like the other projects in this article, changes lives by providing comfort, care and practical support to those who receive the handmade gifts. These are just a few examples of how dedicated Lutheran women (and some men and children) gather as creative communities to use their gifts to serve neighbors. “Sew” much can be done with just a needle and thread!
Cindy Novak is a freelance writer and a member of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Naperville, Illinois.
This article appeared in the September 2019 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.