Published October 21, 2014
Volume 22, Number 10

Changing the World One Dress at a Time
Dress a Girl Around the World

By Zoe Francis

One simple dress can lead to smiles around the world.
That is the ideology behind Dress a Girl Around the World, a nonprofit that recruits volunteers to sew basic dresses for underprivileged girls throughout the globe.
“We are groups of women who get together and make very simple dresses,” local representative Suzanne Beck explained. “Once they’re made, we distribute them into Third World countries.”
The nonprofit started in 2009 in Phoenix, the brainchild of a missionary who realized the simple pillowcase dress pattern could easily and inexpensively provide much-needed dresses for girls in Uganda and around the world.
“It all started with pillowcases,” Beck said. “We made our dresses out of pillowcases, but pillowcases are very expensive. So then we decided we could do the same thing with regular fabric that we could get a lot cheaper. You can sew it into a tube and basically have the same thing you’d have with a pillowcase. We prefer fabric because there are a lot more options, and we can get a lot more dresses. It’s more bang for our buck.”
“The whole idea is giving dignity to the girls, especially girls in Africa who are (treated as) basically nothing,” she added. “You’ve seen on the news what’s happening to girls in Africa. We hope that giving them a dress will give them some dignity and let them know they’re worth it.”
Beck got involved with Dress a Girl in April of 2011.
“I had just gone through a horrible, horrible divorce and had moved from Pleasanton to Livermore,” she recalled. “I moved into my house and got settled and said, ‘OK, I need a ministry.’ I was searching for something I could do, and this just sort of fell in my lap. I don’t even remember how I heard about it.”
While Beck knows her way around a sewing machine, she readily admits she is much better at organizing than she is with needle and thread.
“I figured I could sew, but I could also marshal everybody else to sew and get the dresses sent,” she said. “Last year, we sent 5,000 dresses to all over the world. We sent 2,200 to the Philippines after the tsunami there.”
Beck’s organizational skills have paid off. She has roughly 300 people on her mailing list and a core group of 50 volunteers who regularly help make dresses.
“We have a sew fest once a month at a local church,” she explained. “We have a lot of people who don’t sew. They’ll cut the fabric that’s been donated.”
The monthly sewing bees are a model of efficiency, employing an assembly-line method. Some volunteers cut fabric while others sew it into long tubes that will ultimately be cut into the basic dress pattern. Other volunteers cut armholes or iron hems. An unfinished dress set is put into a Ziploc bag for completion by a seamstress.
“The women who are sewing can embellish it with buttons, ribbons, lace or eyelets,” she said of the finished product. “We make them pretty darned cute. Each person can put their own creative spin on the dress they make.”
Each dress has two pockets, often the only place a girl can keep her own little treasures. The completed dresses are then shipped around the world.
“We don’t just send them to random places,” Beck noted. “We send them with missionaries or groups of people who are going to some Third World country that might need dresses. We want the girls to be given the dresses personally so that they know somebody loves them enough to make a dress for them and somebody cares about them.”
Contact Beck at suzbeck@yahoo.com or 925-352-8447 to volunteer or donate locally. Learn more about the group at dressagirlaroundtheworld.com.

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