Stitching to make a difference

When Diane Cullings, a hobby seamstress and member of Laguna Presbyterian Church, came across an ad for Dresses for Africa, a Christian nonprofit that provides relief to children in orphanages in Central Africa, she decided to use her stitching skills for a good cause.

"I had all of this fabric in the attic that my mother left behind for me, but I never knew what to do with it," she said. "This seemed like a wonderful way to use it."

Through Laguna Presbyterian and worldwide sewing group Nancy's Notions, a partner with Dresses for Africa, Cullings and local volunteers have been assembling sewing kits since the summer — comprised of fabric, patterns, bindings, elastics and instructions for three dresses — which are then distributed to volunteer sewers who make the dresses and return them to the organization.

The group has since given out 10 kits, Cullings said, but hopes to find more volunteers before the winter, when the dresses will be sent to Nancy's Notions, and then to Africa.

"I've even included pockets and accessories, which are optional, and shorts for the little boys of Africa," Cullings said.

Because of the simplicity of the stitching, she said, it's a perfect project for those who are just learning to sew.

"In the 1990s, I made quilts for Romania. I'm enjoying this project because it's much simpler and more people should be able to help," she said.

Dresses for Africa began when a small group of women began making dresses out of pillowcases for young girls in orphanages in Malawi.

Having just returned from a visit to the country, these women knew the history of these girls and the arduous journey that lay ahead for them.

The effort grew as word of their efforts spread, and volunteer groups emerged throughout the country.

The organization has now received more than 50,000 donated garments from volunteers in 49 states, which have reached children in 13 countries in Africa.

"I don't have a number in mind," Cullings said. "We'll just leave it in God's hands."

Those who wish to lend a hand, either through assembling kits or sewing dresses, may call Cullings at (949) 494-7555.

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