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Xavier Magazine | December 14, 2017

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Summer Dresses

By France Griggs Sloat

Sometimes, English professor Trudelle Thomas imagines herself walking down a dirt road on the rugged island nation of Haiti.

In the midst of drab shacks and the smell of raw sewage, she comes upon a group of little girls jumping rope.

haiti

The girls are orphans—many of them lost their parents in the 2010 earthquake—and have little to
call their own. But they are wearing dresses of crimson and yellow and cobalt blue with pockets and collars and lace and ribbons—as pretty as a field of wildflowers bobbing up and down in the breeze.

The dresses make the girls feel special, loved. And they make Thomas feel the same way. For the past two years, Thomas has spent part of her summers creating the dresses for Angels Dress Shop, a church organization in Owensville, Ohio, that began organizing the dressmaking campaign in 2011 after their pastor visited Haiti and saw a need he described as “infinite.”

Thomas read about the project in a news story last year. Being a skilled seamstress, she wanted to help, so she and a friend began making dresses using the group’s pillowcase pattern. She also bought fabrics—yellow gingham, pink floral, blue batik—and added ruffles and pockets. She made some of the dresses reversible since many girls have only one dress to wear.

Since last summer, Thomas made more than 100 dresses. They donated about half to the Angels Dress Shop and half to the Restavek Freedom Foundation, which works to free girls from servitude in Haiti.

“It’s a small thing I can do,” says Thomas, who sponsors a girl through the foundation. “It’s good for my mental health, it helps other people, and it makes me feel really good.”

The dressmaking continues this summer. Thomas expects she’ll make 20-30 dresses and a number of shorts for boys from a bolt of red cloth sent to her by the Angels organization. In Thomas’ mind, boys in bright shorts can be wildflowers, too.

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