By Bridgett Hernandez
A package containing 126 colorful dresses is making a 10,000-mile journey – from a sewing room in Fort Wayne to an orphanage in Uganda.
Over the course of a year, Martha Hatch, a retiree living in Fort Wayne, has spent hours sewing dresses for little girls who she might never meet.
She first learned of the orphanage’s need for clothing about five years ago. Since then, she has been volunteering her time, talent and own money to the charitable cause.
A helping hand
Last year, Hatch applied for a grant from the Fort Wayne branch of the American Association of University Women to help fund the annual project. She had never applied for a grant before but she thought she’d give it a shot.
Hatch didn’t get the grant because it wasn’t a local project, but the board of trustees still wanted to support her project, said board member Martha Weatherford.
“We liked the idea for her project, but she didn’t fit the guidelines, so we just decided we would support her at our spring brunch in May,” she said.
Members gathered fabric from their stashes at home and bought fabric and ribbon to help. The group donated six shopping bags of fabric and sewing supplies and $141 to Hatch for her project.
The dresses are simple – a cotton shift with an adjustable drawstring ribbon neckline – and colorful with bright patterns ranging from flowers to flamingos.
Now the dresses are ready to make the long journey from Hatch’s sewing room in Fort Wayne to missionaries in Texas who will travel with the dresses to the orphanage in Uganda.
A common thread
Weatherford described Hatch as a “sewing dynamo” with a servant’s heart.
“I think her whole life has been one of service,” she said.
Hatch retired from a career in human resources at Dana Incorporated. These days, she’s more active than ever between her gig as a substitute teacher, helping out at her church, St. John Missionary Baptist, spending time with her family and admittedly more hobbies than she has enough time for.
She also quietly completed a large volume of charitable work: care bags for cancer patients, blankets for children in foster care, bibs and birth cloths for military families, and nightgowns and pajamas for nursing home residents just to name a few.
The accomplished seamstress is modest about her contributions. She doesn’t seek out the spotlight.
“No one needs to know. If there’s a need, there’s a need. You just do it,” she said.
She doesn’t do it for the attention; she does it because she loves the work.
On her living room walls, counted cross stitch pictures hang beside framed family photographs. Embroidered cloth napkins, a work in progress, are laid out on the couch.
Her sewing room, filled with towering stacks of fabric and home to five sewing machines, is where she finds joy. Right now, she’s working on her granddaughter’s prom dress.
She also makes her own clothes. Before she retired, she made an outfit for every day of the month and bought matching shoes so that she didn’t have to repeat any outfits.
Hatch first learned how to sew years ago from a woman at her church. She sees her ability as a gift, and charitable sewing is her way of giving back.
“I think I was given a talent and this is my way of giving back because I was blessed to learn to do it,” she said.
She has already started on a stack of dresses to send to the orphanage next year.