Women use common interest in sewing to help others

For some, it may be hard to imagine how something as simple as a pillowcase, lap quilt or small blanket could impact the life of someone they've never met, but thanks to a group of local women whose common interest is sewing, it does.
Three years ago the Mexico Dumb Cluck Club was organized. Don't let the name fool you, because these ladies have a lifetime of talent. They started out making pillowcases for the Missouri Veterans' Home in Mexico and other area nursing facilities. Since then, they have added to their list the American Red Cross, Audrain County Crisis Intervention Services, Columbia Ronald McDonald House and Rainbow House, the Shriners' Children's Hospital in St. Louis and a few other out-of-area organizations.
The group meets a few hours once a month at the Mexico Sewing Center (located on the Mexico Village Square) to make their creations, using donated fabric. During the monthly meetings, the ladies not only share their sewing talents, they also enjoy tasty treats, potluck luncheons, laughter, satisfying fellowship and "lots of rip-outs."
The membership consists of seven women from Mexico, and three members who travel monthly from Kirksville, Jefferson City and Columbia. Their ages range from 50 to 75, with a variety of personalities, but their mission is the same – helping their communities.
"I got the idea from this magazine that put out a nationwide challenge that year to make a million pillowcases for charity," said Bonnie Janssen, owner of the Mexico Sewing Center and organizer of the local sewing club. "Once we got started doing that, we just kept on making them as a labor of love for our own communities."
Janssen said the group can make as many as 75 pillowcases in one day, and more if needed. They recently finished sewing 86 pillowcases for a Kirksville nursing facility and are currently working on two quilts for the Shriners Hospital in St. Louis for two young female patients.
Janssen said they chose to make pillowcases because everyone can use a pillowcase and they are easy to make.
"Once we make contact with the places and find out what they need, we don't stop until we can give them that amount. And, if we can't finish the request during one of our meetings, then we come back and sew until we have completed what is needed," Janssen said. She noted that Mexico's Missouri Veterans' Home, which has had as many as 150 residents at certain times, is the largest group for which the Clucks have sewn. "Whatever they need, we will fulfill."
The ladies also make lap blankets, children's blankets and quilts and together have probably sewn more than a billion stitches – not counting the rip-outs.
Member Joyce Lowry, a retired Mexico school teacher, said she joined the club to meet new people, for the socialization and to do something for the community. What they get in return, she said, "is way more than the labor it takes to do the deed."
"Pillowcases aren't that hard to make, but the appreciation shown when we deliver the items is genuine and filled with warmth. Sometimes the residents at the nursing homes are so grateful and overwhelmed they will put the items in a drawer to save and cherish," Lowry said. "Some people may not realize it, but a lot of the nursing home residents don't have families to do these type of things for them and they truly are happy that we thought of them."
The club decides among themselves and from the needs of the community, what organization they will serve. This is one reason Earlene McCord joined. She likes that freedom of choice. "A lot of organizations dictate what their members can do and who they can help. We don't, and I like that," McCord said.
Member Denise George, the baby of the bunch, remembers when the group visited the Veterans' Home and gave her father and his roommate pillowcases and the joy it gave both men. The group's gesture moved her so much that she joined the club.
"A lot of times, since the material used is donated, we never know what we will get. But, one thing I liked most about the club is that the members always try to give the residents something that pegs what they like, making what they do even more special," George explained. "My dad was a farmer, so they gave him a pillowcase with tractors and he loved it. His roommate was a former coach that liked football, so he got one with footballs on it. They both enjoyed them so much, it made me want to be part of the club. So, one day I just walked in and joined them."
Janssen said each member brings years of expertise to the table and an abundance of stories to share. Most sewed for their families, while others can recall stories of their own childhoods and the lessons and expertise that their mothers shared.
One recalls her mother tearing up old shirts to use as patterns, because it was too costly to afford patterns. One was a military wife, who sewed her children's clothing also to help save money. Another said her mother could, and actually did, make their underclothing – a talent she learned through a class sponsored then by the Extension Office.
"I guess you could say we have our own little sisterhood," McCord said and the group agreed. "And, we couldn't do what we do if it weren't for Bonnie. She not only allows us to come here once a month to do this, she also contributes a lot to what we do, and we always have fun."
The members admit they also love the chatter and advice that is exchanged and of course, that they can solve all the world and community problems when they come together. They thrive on laughter, enjoyable conversations and their monthly luncheons. "We don't need a reason to eat," they all agreed. Though their group is small, they invite anyone interested in sewing and giving back to their community, to come join the fun. The rewards, they say, are immeasurable.
The current membership includes: Roberta Williams, Earlene McCord, Joyce Lowry, Denise George, Laura Bail, Mary Brondell (Jefferson City), Marie Kleinsorge (Columbia), Jeanne Brawner, Christi Hoffman and Janssen.
For more information or to donate fabric for their generous cause, contact the Mexico Sewing Center at (573) 581-2047.