Parish Sewing Ministry Adjusts to Coronavirus Times
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
April 30, 2020
ROCKFORD—Stuffed bunnies started a parish ministry that now is helping some area workers avoid the coronavirus.
 
A little more than 10 years ago Pam Moore, a parishioner at St. Rita in Rockford, received a donation of kits to make toy bunnies.
 
“So we decided to get together to stitch up and stuff bunnies,” recalls Anna Meenan,  president of the St. Rita Sewing Ministry.
 
That initial group of sewers donated the toys to the Rockford Police Department via then-police chaplain Father William Wentink. 
 
Officers kept them in police car trunks, ready to be given to children who got caught up in a variety of first responder situations.
 
What do they sew?
 
In addition to church items and masks, the creations St. Rita sewers make include:
 
 Quilts, pot holders, table runners and American Girl doll clothes for raffles;
 
 Decorative pillows to position patients in their beds, walker and wheelchair bags and clothing protectors (adult bibs) for nursing homes and other facilities
 
 Curtains and drapes for St. Elizabeth Catholic Community Center in Rockford;
 
 Winter hats for homeless shelters;
 
 “Sporty-looking” bandana clothing protectors for the developmentally disabled; and
 
 Embroidered travel pillows for parish March for Life pilgrims. 
The sewing ministry went from there and has never looked back. 
 
There are now 32 sewers, most from the parish plus a few who are friends of members or just heard about it by word of mouth. 
 
In normal times, the group meets one Wednesday a month in the parish hall. Four or five bring portable sewing machines. Another three donated sewing machines are brought up from a basement storage room for meetings.
 
Those not sewing will cut or pin material at one end of “a kind of assembly line process,” Meenan says. Depending on the project, members at the other end will turn sewed items inside out and press them.
“We spread out in Wahl Hall,” she says. “We (also) will have a table where people put what they’ve made the previous month. 
 
“At the end, (items) get tallied up and assigned to members who will deliver them to various agencies,” she adds. “We … keep informal track of where we’ve sent (items) recently, and try to spread things around.”
 
“We decide on a month-to-month basis” what we’ll make, Meenan says, adding that many members take things home to work on, and some who cannot attend meetings also sew at home.
 
Material is donated by parishioners. Most fabrics are of use to the ministry, but “gauzy, sparkly, silky stuff,” Meenan says, is given to Starlight Theater and the Auburn High School theater department.
 
The items they make meet many community needs. “It’s a network all over town,” Meenan says.
 
St. Rita Parish is one recipient. Altar linens and white baptismal cloths embroidered with “St. Rita Church” are regularly made by the ministry. 
 
“One of our members does a lot of embroidery,” Meenan says, adding that they “are gearing up for the baby boom” predicted after the current shelter-at-home directives end.
 
Fabric pieces that are too small for most uses are turned into cat pillows for Noah’s Ark and dog pillows for a Chicago-area animal shelter. The ministry also provides fabric for the Catholic Charities’ refugee sewing group, and members have mended slightly-damaged clothing donated to St. Elizabeth Center.
 
The last few weeks have brought requests for masks made of layers of material, sometimes with interfacing in between the layers. Interfacing, along with elastic, is now in short supply because of the many groups across the area that are sewing masks.
 
St. Rita masks have gone to area nursing homes and to Freeport Health Network and OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center for ancillary staffers. 
 
A recent round of masks headed to facilities like Carpenter’s Place, Mosaic, Northern Illinois Hospice and Milestone for their essential staff, Meenan says.
 
The group also just got a request for masks for truck drivers who have to wear them when making deliveries.
 
“Truckers don’t have time and sewing skills,” Meenan says, “so part of our next batch will go to truckers.”
 
Those rather-unusual recipients are just the latest in a long line of people whose lives have been made better through the efforts of this one parish’s sewing ministry.

 

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