Sewing stitches of love at Allentown UMC

1/27/2010

They call themselves the Agape Stitchers, this group of women in their 60s to late 90s who snip, stitch and sew for those in need.

Meeting two days a month for almost six and a half years, the women of the Agape Stitchers group of Allentown United Methodist Church have made more than 4,500 girl’s dresses, 2,000 boy’s shorts/shirt outfits, and 600 baby blankets, all of which have been sent to needy children around the world.
 
Started in August 2003, the women who make up the Agape Stitchers have spread the love of Christ locally and abroad, sending baby blankets to the ABC Women’s Clinic in Dublin, school bags to an Indian reservation in Oklahoma, dresses to Ghana and short/t-shirt sets to Hungary and Honduras, among others.  
 
Everything they send is handmade except the boy’s t-shirts, says Agape Stitchers founder Grace Wicker, wife of Allentown UMC pastor Rev. Billy Wicker, Jr.
 
Inspired by missionary Rev. Bobby Gale’s accounts of children living in poverty with no clothing to wear, Wicker was moved to help.
“I had retired from the school system, and really wanted to do something that would help people,” she said.  “So I prayed about it, and God answered my prayers.”
 
The day after being led to “sew little dresses,” Wicker met with Allentown UMC’s United Methodist Women group and pitched the idea to them.  Agreeing to try it for a year, those interested initially decided to meet to sew one day per month.
 
Now, six and a half years and 4,500 dresses later, the group sews two days per month and makes not only handmade sundresses, but shorts, school bags, baby blankets, ponchos, craft bags, teddy bears, lap robes and bibs. 
 
“This is something that has evolved into a much larger picture than we ever dreamed,” Wicker said.
 
Not all of the 20-25 women who make up the group are expert seamstresses or even comfortable behind a sewing machine, but there is a job for everyone who is interested in helping, Wicker said.  Some cut fabric, others iron, and others hem and embellish the clothing.  Two ladies in the group spend all of their time embellishing the dresses, so that none are sent without some sort of decoration.
 
One of the embellishers, Betty Cooper, was introduced to the Agape Stitchers while visiting her mother, 97 year-old Betty Goble.  When she moved to the area in early 2005, she started attending the group on a regular basis.
 
“It’s just a wonderful group to be a part of; we have such a good time,” Cooper said.  “It’s just so much fun, and I know the little ones that get the dresses and shorts need them, but I think we get more out of it, knowing that we’re helping someone.”
 
The fabric for the clothing is donated or purchased with money that has been donated by local churches and individuals.  Twice the group has held bazaars to raise money for their mission, but Wicker says that they rely heavily on donations.
 
Sewing, cutting, hemming and decorating outfits from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every second Monday and Tuesday of each month, women from as far as Macon travel to Allentown UMC to serve by sewing.  And the Agape Stitchers are an ecumenical group – United Methodist, Baptist, Nazarene, Independent Methodist and Presbyterian women join together to live out their faith with fabric.
 
After sorting the dresses into bags of 100 and the short sets into bags of 50, the clothing is given to local South Georgia United Methodist missionaries or mission teams that will deliver them to children when they are overseas. 
 
“Everything has been delivered by someone we know,” Wicker said.  “Rev. Bobby Gale has delivered many, many dresses and pants.  Rev. Tommy Veal has delivered them to Mexico.  Russ Falk from Dublin takes dresses and pants every year to Malawi, Africa.  My son was fortunate to go to Malawi three years ago and take clothing with him.  Randel Bryan has taken dresses on mission trips.  A lot of love is stitched into every dress and pair of pants, and those who deliver them are able to tell the children who receive them how the ladies and God love them.”
 
Unto the Least of His’ Rev. Gale says that the women of Agape Stitchers are an inspiration to him.  “When I gave one of the dresses to a Ugandan orphan, she said, ‘Mister, is this dress really for me?’  When I told her it was, she looked up at me and said, ‘I’ve never had a new dress before.’  That’s the power of these acts of mercy.”
 
Martha Ann Davidson, a member of Allentown UMC, has been an Agape Stitcher since its inception.
 
“When you see pictures of the smiles on the faces of the little girls, it makes you want to do more.  We feel like this is a need.  Some of the girls have never had a dress before, so it’s very rewarding. I don’t feel like I would make a good one to go on a mission trip, but I feel like this is my way of helping.” 
 
Spreading God’s love, one stitch at a time.

--By Kara Witherow, South Georgia Advocate editor

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