By Kristi Pihl, Herald staff writer
Somewhere in Africa, there is a little girl who will get to wear a new, size two dress with a pink bodice and a floral-patterned skirt, decorated with pretty lace, that was made in the Tri-Cities.The girl doesn’t have the dress yet. But she soon will.
That’s because the dress is one of more than 300 made by 40 women from the Tri-Cities who have made them to send to girls in Africa who otherwise wouldn’t have a new dress.
Chris Macourek of Richland started a local group to make dresses for Little Dresses for Africa, a Christian-based nonprofit that distributes dresses to orphans and poor children in African countries, and sometimes to other nations, in times of crisis.
The women are sending their first box of dresses to the Michigan-based nonprofit this week. Macourek said she plans to send boxes four times a year. Since Macourek, a cookbook author and retired cooking teacher, started the Tri-Cities group, Little Dresses 3, in December, she said she also has had women tell her that they are starting groups in Mesa, Othello, Walla Walla, Sunnyside and Yakima.
Macourek first heard about Little Dresses on the news and thought she “could do this.” So she put an ad in the Giant Nickel looking for other people who sewed and would be willing to pitch in. Those who saw the notice told friends and church members.
“When you do something from your heart, God opens up doors,” said Macourek, who has sewn for more than 20 years. Debbie Joy McKewen of Kennewick is one of the women who saw the ad. Only, McKewen said, she didn’t jump on it right away, thinking maybe she could find a similar project to benefit local kids.
Then the daily devotional she and her husband read featured a message about how their neighbors are everyone in the world. So McKewen said she picked up the phone and called Macourek. So far, McKewen, who started sewing clothes for herself as a teenager, has made 16 “adorable” dresses with ruffles to send to the nonprofit. She said she is hoping the local group will get some fabric and materials donated because so far it’s coming out of members’ own pockets.
“I just wish I could see the little girl who will wear them,” McKewen said.
It’s volunteer work that doesn’t require someone to be available for a set time, or even commit to a quota, said Macourek, who has made 40 of the dresses. Anyone is welcome to make one dress or 20, or give the gift of fabric or thread, or money toward postage. They also are accepting shorts for boys made from cotton with elastic waists, Macourek said. Used clothing is not accepted.
The dress design for the project is simple, with elastic along the top of the bodice and ties made out of bias tape as the straps, with no buttons or zippers. That’s because the child won’t necessarily have a way to get the dress repaired if it breaks, Macourek said. Dresses can be made out of pillowcases, and the Little Dresses for Africa website has a pattern for those dresses, Macourek said. The fabric for the dresses needs to be cotton because of the climate, and the dress must be able to hold up to wear and tear.
After all, it might be the only dress the child has, she said. “They are motherless and fatherless, and who else is going to help them?” McKewen said. McKewen said she knows what it’s like to wear the same dress day after day as she did as a child.
“I would have loved to have a new dress when I was a kid,” she said.
Macourek said she likely never will go to Africa and meet the children who are receiving the dresses. But she said it is enough “just knowing that it will make a little girl happy.”