Have faith: Every girl needs a dress

United Methodist Church sews Little Dresses for Africa.


updated March 27, 6 pm

When the Rev. Roberta Williams came to the Methodist Church on Martha’s Vineyard from Wellfleet last June, she brought something with her: a love of a mission program called Little Dresses for Africa.

“Jesus said you should feed the hungry and clothe the poor,” the Rev. Williams said last Sunday, when a group of her congregation gathered to work on the sewing project in the parish hall of Trinity United Methodist Church.

Since last year, members of the congregation have gotten together to go over the pattern of the little dresses and little shorts they’ll be sending to Africa after the Mother’s Day service at the church next month. Last Sunday, March 19, they gathered to iron, sew, and put together what they have so far: more than 175 little dresses, and little britches for the boys.

Jean Wunsch is the top producer of the project, having made dozens of dresses and little shorts over the course of the winter. The dress pattern is as simple as the feed sack dresses of pioneer days, according to the organization’s website littledressesforafrica.org. The little boys’ shorts, with a drawstring waist, are similar to pajama shorts boys here might wear to bed at night. Fabrics are typically cotton and breathable.

“I’ve sewn since I was a little kid,” Ms. Wunsch said. “My last big project was my daughter’s prom dress.”

Jean has helpers in the congregation, like Sandy Joyce and Donna Leon and her husband Jamie.

Jamie was the only man involved in the sewing project, but he clearly enjoys the work.

“I do all of the sewing at home,” Jamie said as he pressed a firm crease into the fabric. He retired from the Vineyard Haven Post Office a few years ago, and decide to give back by volunteering.

Jean is adamant that “anybody can do it” when it comes to sewing Little Dresses for Africa.

“This is nice, because I can do some kind of mission work while I’m right here,” Jean said. “This is something I enjoy anyway, so I can do something positive with it … and every girl should have a dress — at least one.”

Little Dresses for Africa was founded in 2008 by Rachel O’Neill after she and her husband Michael traveled to Africa for her 50th birthday, the Rev. Williams explained.

“She was heartbroken about the conditions there, but especially for children,” she said.

The Rev. Williams said people sometimes question whether or not their donations or volunteerism really makes a difference. “Our founder, John Wesley, said that we don’t give because other people need it, but we give to show gratitude to God for all that we have,” she noted.

Sending the dresses off to Little Dresses for Africa also means that the congregation needs to come up with $2 per dress to send to the organization to help defray the shipping costs. There will be an offering at the Mother’s Day service to help with that.

“Because they come with the gift of the dresses, it gives the organization an in to help teach the community about hygiene and health and safety,” the Rev. Williams said.

The United Methodist Church of Martha’s Vineyard is also hosting another program, this one taught by retired ministers Phil Diettrich and Carol Stine.

“We’re offering a Bible study based on Handel’s ‘Messiah,’” the Rev. Williams said. The sessions began on Tuesday, and will continue on consecutive Tuesdays at 2 pm at Trinity Church’s parish hall at the Campgrounds in Oak Bluffs.


The Federated Church in Edgartown offers a free Forgiveness Workshop on Saturday, April 1, from 1 to 4 pm at the church’s parish house on South Water Street. The Rev. Susan Waldrop, interfaith minister and counselor, will present the workshop.

“The willingness to forgive often comes from being heard… from having our own hurts understood, releasing uncried tears and our judgments or blame, loving ourselves, and receiving love for hidden wounds,” the Rev. Waldrop said in a press release about the workshop. “Then we see our shared humanity, and feel our connection with being loved and offering love, whether we want to restore or release a relationship.”

The workshop concludes with healing prayer, followed by tea and snacks. Although this is a free event, donations will be accepted, and walk-ins are welcome. For more information, call the Rev. Waldrop at 973-879-9813, or email her at swaldrop@me.com.


Good Shepherd Parish offers a program on prayer by Jennie Isbell Shinn, a Quaker and spiritual director, at the parish center in Oak Bluffs, on March 29, April 5, and April 12. The program is based on Ms. Isbell-Shin’s book, “Finding God in the Verbs: Crafting a Fresh Language of Prayer.” Father Michael Nagle said the event will begin with a light meal at 5:30 pm, and the program will run from 6 to 7:30 pm. The book is available for $10, and the suggested offering for the program is $25. All are welcome.


The Neighborhood Convention gathers on Tuesday, April 4, at 11 am at the Bodhi Path Buddhist Center, 21 Laurand Drive, in West Tisbury. Sharona Gamsby leads the “Simple Meditation” program. For more information, call 508-696-5929. Everyone welcome, and bring a bag lunch.


You can win your Easter dinner on April Fool’s Day at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven. The April Fool’s Ham and Turkey Bingo Party is this Saturday, April 1. Bingo cards are two for $1. Games begin at 2 pm and continue for several hours of family fun, friendly competition, and socializing with light refreshments. For more information, call 508-693-0332.