Grand Prairie sewing ministry mends broken hearts, covers fragile lives_120803

Posted: 12/05/03

Grand Prairie sewing ministry mends
broken hearts, covers fragile lives

By George Henson

Staff Writer

GRAND PRAIRIE--The women of Fairview Baptist Church handcraft gifts of love for people who need a unique kind of shelter.

Their ministry began with crafting turbans for female cancer patients who had lost their hair. Now, the group of 15 women have expanded to make baby blankets and bears for children.

Frankie Bilbrey works on a baby blanket that will assure an infant goes home from Parkland Hospital appropriately wrapped. The women from Fairview Baptist Church in Grand Prairie sew to aid both babies and women who lose their hair due to cancer treatments.

Laverne Swiney began making the turbans on her own after seeing a sewing program on television about how to use sewing to help others. She didn't have a lot of time at that point in her life, however, because she was helping her husband fight his battle with the deadly disease. By the time the disease eventually claimed him, she had seen first hand the need for turbans in countless waiting rooms.

"That's probably what keeps most of us coming here--that feeling that we are doing something to help people when they are in such a bad way," she said.

Like Swiney, a number of the group know how bad cancer can be. Marvis Frazier is a cancer survivor, as is Frankie Bilbrey. Nita Gearhart's husband is a cancer survivor. One of the group's number, Peggy Duncan, died from the disease.

Bilbrey recalled once waiting to see her oncologist and recognizing a Fairview-made turban on one of the other women in the waiting room.

"It was such wild colors, I knew it had to one of ours," she said. "Then I heard her tell her daughter: 'We're going to have to do something about this turban. It's getting so dirty, and I can't do without it.' I told her there were some more in a box in another room and she should go pick out a couple. She was timid, but eventually she did. Then she asked me how I knew about it, and I told her I was a part of the group that made them. She just looked at me and said, 'What a blessing.'"

Patients who wear turbans made by the group often donate material or money so the women can buy more material. That donated material has led the group to branch out into other projects.

Some of the material didn't seem right for turbans but worked well for baby blankets or lap robes for senior citizens and battered women. Other material seemed right for teddy bears and walker caddies for senior adults.

One member of the group is not able to make it to the group sewing sessions but crochets about 60 baby caps each month. Those caps often are used to clothe stillborn babies for a photograph to be given to grieving parents.

The group started making baby blankets after dropping off the turbans at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. While on a tour of the facility, they were taken by the nursery, where they learned a disturbing fact.

"When they told us that some of those babies went home in their daddies' jean jackets because they didn't have anything else to wrap them in, we said that wasn't going to happen any more," Carolyn Crabb recalled.

Crabb also was the one who came up with the idea of making the walker caddies. The caddies strap around the cross bar of the walker, and the patient can use the pockets to carry things they no longer can carry in their hands.

Frazier, a spunky 84 years old, said she is delighted to help despite the fact that arthritis limits what she can do.

"I was a cancer patient and survived," she said. "Now I take a pill every day. It's my hallelujah pill. Any pill I can take that will keep me alive and off chemotherapy is my hallelujah pill. But I know God has been very good to me and I need to be doing something every day to help other people."

Fay Bell feared there would not be a job for her with the group because she could not sew. But friends told her to come on and they would find a job for her.

"I found I had a talent for putting the stuffing in the teddy bears," she said. "I'm just proud the Lord has given me something I can do to help other people."

The bears sometimes are given to sick children, but most often they are given to children of cancer patients who are visiting an ill parent.

Gearhart has found her niche in helping with the bears as well. "I enjoy it so much. I love cutting out bears, because I can visualize the smiles of the little ones when they get their bears. I just love cutting out and cutting up."

The women work three consecutive days for two months in a row. This allows them to leave their materials out and not have to spend time setting up and taking down each day, Swiney said. The third month, they deliver the things they have made.

They supply products to Parkland Hospital, three cancer centers, four nursing homes and a home for battered women and their children.

Since the group began in 1999, they have made 2,811 turbans, 311 bonnets, 168 lap robes, 12 walker caddies, 492 baby blankets, 625 bears, 481 baby caps and 36 pillows.

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