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Angel Gowns ministry continues to grow

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Cathy Diehl poses with wedding gowns that have been donated to her ministry. She makes burial garments for miscarried infants and babies that are stillborn or die at birth. (Courtesy Photo)

By Walt Schaefer
For The Catholic Telegraph

Cathy Diehl has a basement crammed with wedding gowns — about 100 have been donated to date.

When she started her ministry, she had 10 volunteer seamstresses. Now she has 25. There were no volunteers to make deliveries or pick up donations. Now there are six women who do not sew but who run errands.

When her daughter, Ava, was stillborn last year, Diehl searched in vain for a dress appropriate for her daughter to wear at her burial at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Montgomery. She even looked at baby doll clothes but nothing was small enough…. Ava was one pound, 10 inches.

Shortly after the tragic ordeal, a friend told Diehl about a Texas initiative — the Neonatal Intensive Care Helping Hands Project where volunteers create “Angel Gowns” from donated wedding dresses. So, Diehl started Sewing Hearts — a local ministry dedicated to providing “Angel Gowns” for infants who are stillborn or die within one year of birth.

“There was nothing like it here in the Tri-State so I decided to start it,” Diehl said. “Today, I have probably a list of 15 to 20 people who want to talk to me about donating a dress. I’ve told them I could not take any more dresses — my basement’s full.” She will let them know when space becomes available.

“We’ve updated to new patterns. We have tweaked the dresses. We’re making them a little longer to cover the babies’ feet. That was a request from some people and a funeral director also suggested it. We were getting 12 to 20 dresses from a gown, where now we’re getting about 10,” Diehl said. “The gowns also are being lined to improve appearance and make sewing easier.

The next step is to increase inventory to enable participating hospitals to receive 20 or so gowns at a time. “We’re not in hospitals yet. That’s the next step. But, I do have a list going. I have contact folks” for University Hospital, Children’s Hospital, the Mercy Hospitals (Fairfield and Anderson), Good Samaritan and others. “I have contact numbers for six people in six different hospitals.” These range from neonatal nursing supervisors to bereavement coordinators, she said. Diehl, of West Chester, works at Kettering Medical Center.

“I received so much response from the story last year in The Catholic Telegraph. I posted it on Face book. It did wonders.” she said.

“I have received offers from people who do graphic design, advertising. One lady told me about how much it would cost to apply to become tax-exempt,” Diehl said. “I’m working on that now.”

Information about the ministry is available at www.sewinghearts.org.

This story originally appeared in the April 2015 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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