Golden Valley retirees sew for DR Congo, Minneapolis

0927-Layettes-281x300At the Covenant Village of Golden Valley retirement community, 72-year-old Nancy Anderson and 74-year-old Jo Goodwater have been quietly mobilizing a crew of seamstresses to help folks halfway around the world and at home in Minneapolis.

In the last two and a half years, Anderson and her team have created hundreds of items for people in Democratic Republic of the Congo: 138 dresses that Congolese girls can wear to school, 66 baby layettes for newborn Congolese babies, 105 reusable surgical masks, 100 reusable surgical caps—50 for men and 50 for women who need a bit more room to accommodate their hair.

The outreach started when the Covenant Village activity staff asked Anderson, a retired consumer science teacher, to teach a class. She agreed, but noted, “The only thing I really wanted to do was something for someone else.” Many of the retired missionaries who live at Covenant Village had served in Congo, and Anderson was aware of the needs. She and her sister Jo Goodwater, also a Covenant Village resident, hatched a plan.

The schoolgirl dresses, made from used pillowcases, were the first Congolese project. After advertising the project within the Covenant Village community, collecting pillowcases from Covenant Village residents, and shopping thrift stores for pillowcases, Anderson and Goodwater soon had enough material to get started. They designated workdays. Each time, 10 to 15 volunteers came to the community’s creative arts center to cut, pin and sew. That established the procedure for future projects.

The layettes, consisting of a blanket, bonnet and shirt, came next. Anderson and her sister found flannel on sale, and the village seamstresses set to work. The sisters thought stretchable knit caps would be more useful than fabric, so they provided a pattern, knitting needles and yarn, and Covenant Village’s volunteer knitters created 200 tiny caps. Five workdays and innumerable knitting hours later, 66 layettes were ready to ship.

Surgical masks and caps were the most recent project. Anderson created patterns from disposable samples. Made of brightly colored and printed fabrics and bound with twill tape, the masks and caps are operating room supplies unlike any you’ve seen in the U.S. The bonus for Congolese surgeons low on all supplies: the masks and caps are reusable.

Anderson and Goodwater are interested in helping at home as well as overseas. Their very first project, in the summer of 2010, was 45 pairs of lined fleece mittens for the needy and homeless in Minneapolis. They repeated the effort in 2013, upping the donation to 75 pairs of mittens.

Living at a retirement community with a skilled nursing center on site, they know that nursing home residents stay cozy with lap blankets. So they mobilized the Covenant Village stitchers to create 35 lap quilts for Minneapolis-area nursing homes.

Supplies and shipping expenses could mount up for projects like these. But the sisters tapped their creativity for funds.

When their mother lived at The Holmstad, the Covenant retirement community in Batavia, Ill., they helped her make American Girl doll clothes and accessories to sell at the community’s annual Christmas bazaar. Now that they’ve moved to Covenant Village, they stitch doll clothes to sell at bazaars so they can buy needed supplies for their philanthropic sewing.

“When we were doing the pillowcase dresses, people wanted to give us money for the project,” recalls Anderson. “We didn’t want to accept donations, so we talked to the chaplains here at Covenant Village. They designated one Sunday’s collection as a postage fund for mission projects.”

“We want to help other people,” says Anderson. “And we’re trying very hard to be an asset here at Covenant Village.”

From the volume of material they’ve donated since 2010, it’s safe to say Anderson and Goodwater have achieved their first objective. When Anderson reflects on the Covenant Village sewing sessions, she’s hopeful they’re accomplishing the second as well. “We’re really concerned about building community and having people get to know one another. The work sessions have built some friendships in the community. I’ve gotten to know people better by doing this. That and Christ’s love are what keep us going.”

A lifelong Covenanter, Anderson attended Orchard Covenant Church in Springfield, Mass. Today she attends Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, Minn. Goodwater attends services at Covenant Village of Golden Valley.

By Colette Claxton. Copyright © 2013 The Evangelical Covenant Church.