Utah Valley has one of the highest birth rates in the nation. But some of those precious babies do not make it. That is what concerns Utah County native Melody Penrod of Springville. She wants those sweet little ones remembered and respected with lovely burial gowns or tiny tuxedos.
Penrod named her project “Tender Mercies” and she and a group of four seamstresses are working their sewing machines and fingers off designing and sewing wee dresses size eight inches to 23 inches (for at risk babies who live a while, then pass on).
“Every ‘baby angel’ deserves to have a beautiful dress to wear to heaven,” Penrod said. When she asked hospital personnel in NICU what is normally done to dress a baby who has passed on they said, “We have nothing for a tiny baby – we wrap them in a washcloth, put them on a tray and take them back to the mother.”
“This shocked me,” Penrod said. “It has to be better than that.” The bereavement counselor agreed and said, “There is a great need.” Melody wants to fill that need for the mothers and fathers in Utah Valley.
What she and her volunteer seamstresses are using for the burial gowns is even more surprising: wedding dresses and prom dresses and formals that are no longer in use by their owners. Penrod is asking for those lovely satin (and others) and lace materials as the basis for the tiny outfits. She has received 32 dresses already, but needs more.
Penrod wants to give the high respect the babies deserve.
“Baby burial gowns are lovingly handmade by skilled seamstresses especially for premature or stillborn infants,” she said. “Many generous women have already been inspired to repurpose their wedding dresses.”
Right now 50 outfits have been created and ready to hand off to the hospitals and mothers to choose.
“Tiny funeral clothing is very difficult to find in stores to fit the littlest babies for burial,” Melody added. “Donated white wedding and pastel prom dresses are used to create these beautiful gowns.”
Penrod and her crew even create lace angel wings and halos for the babies.
“When the baby goes to heaven, it’s got to have a halo and wings,” she said.
Becki Knepper of Spanish Fork and a friend, Michaun Torgersen, have sewn 12 dresses.
“I have a warm, touching feeling doing something to help someone else,” Knepper said. She is a Sgt. First Class Army retiree of 27 years and enjoyed serving her country.
“This is continuing service. When you get outside of yourself and help others, whatever things are going on in your life that aren’t quite right – they seem minuscule.”
Besides she worked for Jo-Ann’s Fabric in Sioux City, Iowa, for a time and said, “I get to whittle down some of my stash at home. And I’m using the skills my mother taught me to help someone who is in a sad place in their life.”
Penrod has wanted to do something worthwhile and meaningful in her life to help others that hasn’t been addressed before.
“Christening and blessing dresses are being taken care of,” she noted. “I asked myself, ‘If not me, then who?’ I receive a great deal of satisfaction from this project. I think about it almost constantly, things I need to pull together and have happen.”
She plans to set up a nonprofit organization in January. Yes, more dresses and more seamstresses are needed for Tender Mercies.
“This is an at-home service, women can volunteer from their homes,” she said.
Both Knepper and Penrod love children; Knepper has five children and nine grandchildren and Penrod has four children and 10 grandchildren. Penrod is a court representative for Pomarri Outpatient Services in Orem.
She has conferred with bereavement counselors at the five hospitals in Utah Valley and Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City. Orem Community Hospital wants as many of the tiny outfits as the volunteers can bring.
“This is better, a pretty white satin dress,” Penrod said. “The women who donate their dresses love the concept that their wedding dresses can be put to good use. These babies die but they are not out of our memory. And the dresses/tuxedos are great for final funeral pictures to keep the memories alive.”Read more at:www.kissyaustralia.com/one-shoulder-formal-dresses