Ten years since its inception, Barbara Entwistle’s Dress Ministry is running stronger than ever.
Though named for the signature pillowcase dresses the nonprofit is known to create, the ministry sends all sorts of crafted and donated supplies around the world to those who need them.
These items include clothes, hygiene kits, blankets and shoes. The ministry also fashions market bags out of T-shirts, which was a response to reports that recipients were leaving distribution centers with full arms, and as a result, were losing some items on the walk home.
The ministry coordinates directly with other nonprofits, missionaries and agencies to coordinate distribution. One such nonprofit is Livingsent Ministries, which coordinates distributions in Guatemala and Haiti, two nations that regularly benefit from the ministry's work.
“I might get a message from (Livingsent coordinator) Steve Smith that he's leaving at the end of September and he would like to take certain things,” Entwistle said. “I usually have things on hand. I’ll send a message out to the group that they’re looking for hygiene supplies — soap, toothbrush, toothpaste. Members will start calling me and I’ll pick up and add to what I have and (a Livingsent representative) would come and we load it up.”
“This is different than just donating to an organization where you don’t know anybody. You don’t always know where things are going (with other places). Our way, we know for sure.”
Entwistle said she came up with the idea for the Dress Ministry from her time as a volunteer with a local Girl Scouts chapter. While trying to come up with a project idea for the older girls, someone told her about pillowcase dresses. Entwistle went home, looked them up, made one and it went from there.
She passed the idea along to the Brownie troop she was working with and put up flyers around Berlin searching for more volunteers.
“The more volunteers I got, it just grew,” Entwistle said. "I probably have 20 active members and over the years there have been 50, 60, 70 people involved at one time or another.”
A shipment of donations was just made in Guatemala with “hundreds” of bags filled with clothes, soap and school supplies handed out in the retrofitted market bags that the ministry makes.
The ministry is also helping Afghan refugees now. After an Air Force reservist contacted Entwistle, two pickups have been arranged to be taken to an Air Force base in New Jersey and flown out from there.
Despite the volume of goods the ministry produces, Entwistle said she doesn’t see a need to ever set a goal for what they’d like to accomplish, considering the ever-present need for charitable contributions.
“There’s always going to be a need for these things,” Entwistle said. “As long as we always have someone to take what we’re making, we’re going to keep making.”