Appleton volunteers dressing girls around the world

Posted at 10:45 PM, Jun 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-29 23:45:42-04
The buzz of sewing machines and the sounds of laughter echoing through Sandi Utecht's basement. It's a typical Monday for a group of volunteer seamstresses who are donating their time and talents to create dresses for children living in poor countries. 
"If they're coming to volunteer their time for 4 hours a week to sew for somebody else that they've never met, that's just the heart that they have, so that connects us all," says Utecht.
She started the Appleton chapter of the Dress a Girl¬†Around the World charity nine months ago by recruiting volunteers through her church. That's how she met Kathleen Winarski.
"When I was 12-years-old and I didn't have the money to buy clothing at the department stores, I looked at that and said, 'I think I can make that,' so I started making my own clothes," explains Winarski.
Now, she's using her skills to help clothe underprivileged children who are thousands of miles away. Fellow volunteer Georgette Kneezel witnessed the need first-hand during a trip to Africa.
"There's kids that aren't totally dressed. There's kids in rags, and to give them a dress or a pair of pants is just something that's a blessing to them and a blessing to us to see that kids are well taken care of." 
Besides giving them hope and dignity, the dresses also protect the girls. Each garment has a purple label sewn on to it. The label is a sign to sexual predators that an organization is watching out for them and they're better off to leave the children alone.
"We pray for them while we sew for the child that's going to receive the shorts or the dress," explains Utecht.
Missionaries will transport the ladies' latest batch of clothing to Uganda, Africa in July. In the fall, they'll send a shipment to Lima, Peru.
Each clothing item comes with a pocket treasure whether it's a homemade doll, hair ribbons or teething rings for toddlers. The women can't wait to see photos of their special delivery.
"To see a child's face light up is just beyond explanation," says Kneezel.
But it's also the camaraderie in Appleton that keeps the volunteers coming back. 
"It is so much fun, because we're doing it for a cause, but you also make friends here," explains Winarski.
Utecht adds, "We really start to care about each other. It's like a family."   
It's a family that's 25 members strong and growing. 
"It's just really gratifying," says Utecht, to bring a sense of pride and self worth to girls in need with every stitch.
Dress a Girl Around the World is based in Tempe, Arizona. So far, the faith-based non-profit has delivered over 300,000 dresses to 81 countries. They also provide clothing to boys and call it Dress a Dude.
If you would like information on how to join Appleton's chapter, or to donate sewing materials or suitcases to transport the clothing, email Sandi Utecht at .