Hawaii sews for Little Dresses for Africa

Small Town Coffee is dress-making factory for a day.
The Garden Island The Garden Island | Posted: Monday, February 21, 2011 11:00 pm.
Photos by Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

KAPA‘A — Pillow cases were transformed into hope for young African girls on Monday afternoon at Small Town Coffee in Kapa‘a.

The sign leading to the popular local store read “Closed,” but inside a dozen ladies were working in what they lovingly described as “The Sweat Shop.” Hailing from different professions, the women came together capitalizing on the Presidents’ Day holiday to churn out dresses from pillow cases earmarked for little girls in Africa through the Little Dresses for Africa ministry. “Abbi Lapetina found the program through an article on the MSN website,” said Kathy McMillen, a sweat shop seamstress, noting more than 130,000 dresses sewn to date. “And the lady who started it, Rachel O’Neill, didn’t even know how to sew.”

McMillen said she meets with Lapetina and Anni Caporuscio, owners of Small Town Coffee, and together they decide on what they can do for the community. The “Sweat Shop” project was their first community project for this quarter. When O’Neill visited Africa, she was touched by what she saw and returned to America determined to get dresses for the little girls. It was when she came home that she realized she didn’t know how to sew, but the burning determination had her asking other women for help.

“This is like what we’re doing,” McMillen said. “We asked other ladies in the community and here we are.” Lapetina said it takes very little to create a dress that will bring hope to a little girl in Africa. “We scoured the thrift shops and the St. Catherine rummage sale in search of pillow cases,” Lapetina said. “A pillow case, two lengths of bias tape and some elastic. It takes about 30 minutes to sew a dress, and today, we have ladies working on different phases to create dresses which will be shipped to Little Dresses for Africa. Anyone can do it.” McMillen estimated the group would generate about 40 to 50 dresses during the holiday gathering.

“The Little Dresses for Africa also has a program, ‘Britches for Boys,’ where they take care of little boys,” McMillen said. “Maybe we’ll do that for the next gathering.” Caporuscio, who joked about trading her barista tools for an iron, said Small Town Coffee also has hand-made items on sale which they set aside to benefit a micro credit loans program which helps young women trying to get started. Lapetina said, “I even got my sister in Vermont doing this too.”

Visit www.littledressesforafrica.org for more information on the program.

Small Town Coffee is open Monday through Saturday from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays from 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 821-1604 for more information.

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