By Tanya Connor | The Catholic Free Press
A spiritual experience, a “calling” for cloth, year-round work – and fun – has led to Christmas gifts for poor children.
But this year Hurricane Matthew hurried up the gift-giving.
This is the story Judi Mancini, of St. Columba Parish in Paxton, tells.
On Oct. 12 she and other members of St. Columba’s Haitian Sewing Ministry gave away hundreds of Christmas gifts they’ve been making all year.
As usual, they gave them to Sister Marie-Judith Dupuy, a Sister of St. Anne who directs the Worcester Diocese’s Haitian Apostolate. Sister Marie-Judith gives them out at the Christmas party she runs for students in the Apostolate’s education program in Haiti.
In previous years, when Sister Marie-Judith came to St. Columba’s, usually in December, the sewing ministry had all the dresses and pillow cases they made on display, Mrs. Mancini said.
This year, however, in early October they’d already packed 284 dresses and some flip flops, which people donate each year. And they sewed some new items: about 100 pillow cases, and boy’s shorts, girl’s sunbonnets and blankets, she said.
They had packed up the dresses because they got too heavy for the rack they display them on in the church hall, she said. (Each week the new dresses that come in are displayed in the church.)
They had no way of knowing that Hurricane Matthew was about to strip some already impoverished Haitians of their few possessions.
“How fortunate we bagged them,” Mrs. Mancini said last week, after Sister Marie-Judith arrived unexpectedly and wanted everything they had ready.
“They are ready to go – to help the children that have lost everything,” Mrs. Mancini said. “We have never bagged in advance.” She attributed it to Divine Providence that they did that this year.
After they packed the dresses, they continued sewing, and made about 100 more dresses, Mrs. Mancini estimated.
“We’re not counting today,” she said. “We’re just packing up” the newest dresses and the other items. Everything is going to Haiti to address the emergency there, she said.
This was all possible because Mrs. Mancini attended a Haitian Apostolate celebration at St. Mary Parish in Shrewsbury. She recalls the date: May 11, 2012.
Among displays by people helping Haitians was one that included a picture of dresses and instructions for making them.
“It was the most spiritual experience I have ever had,” Mrs. Mancini maintains. “When I looked at the dresses and the pattern, it was like lightning went through my whole body.” The fabric she had at home came to mind.
“I thought, ‘My fabric has a special higher calling,’” she says.
She arranged for an announcement to be put in her parish’s bulletin, inviting people to make such dresses for girls in Haiti. The first day – May 31, 2012 – one other person showed up.
Over time the ministry grew to about 25 women, she said, and jumped to about 45 – from several towns – after the Telegram & Gazette newspaper published an article about the ministry last August.
Some women sew at church together, some sew at home, some press fabric or put together the kits with pieces needed for each item, Mrs. Mancini said.
They meet from 9 a.m. to noon each Wednesday in the church hall, and welcome others to join them or donate fabric, or money to help pay for shipping, she said.
To date they’ve donated more than 1,000 dresses, she said.
“It’s like a party,” Mrs. Mancini said. “We make it fun; we keep it fun.”
They have snacks and envision the smiles of the recipients of the fruits of their labor. And they see the results when Sister Marie-Judith shows them a video.
“It is so delightful for the ministry to see,” Mrs. Mancini said. Members exclaim, “Oh, I made that one!” In the most recent video, the girls walked and turned, as if in a fashion show, she said.
“That video feeds our passion,” a passion that’s already intense, Mrs. Mancini said.
The hurricane hasn’t cut things short, however. This Christmas the Haitians need Christmas more than ever, Mrs. Mancini decided.
“We need to hit the ground running and give them their Christmas” by making more clothes in time for the Christmas party, she said.
– To contact Judi Mancini call 508-769-7412.