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Gowns for the grieving

There are people in this world who do things behind the scenes. Things just happen but one doesn’t always know who makes them happen or how they happen. Meet Angie Schenk, who is one of those people. It’s something most people don’t want to talk about or even think about, the death of a newborn or a stillborn baby. And yet for that terrible time of need for a young family, Angie Schenk of Belgrade has made a gown that can be used by hospital personnel to show a baby to parents or by the family for burial. A member of Crow River Lutheran Church, Schenk got her start about 25 years ago when someone, she no longer remembers who, brought up the subject at a church meeting. The church obtained patterns and Schenk was asked if she would be interested in sewing the gowns. She said ‘why not?’ “Someone at church had read that hospitals needed such gowns,” says Schenk, who has lived in the Brooten-Belgrade area all her life. “Up until then I didn’t even know there was a need for such things.” But, unfortunately, there is a need for people whose babies are stillborn, die during birth, or are miscarried. She was asked because she was already sewing activity bags for the youth of the church. And she was filling the bags with coloring books and crayons to help keep kids busy. “Some of those bags are still in use today,” she said proudly. Then came the gowns, that now, 25 years later, add up into the hundreds. The gowns have been delivered to Glacial Ridge Hospital in Glenwood, St. Cloud Hospital, Rice Hospital in Willmar and St. Michael’s Hospital in Sauk Centre. Her friend, Inez Anderson, does some of the deliveries. Now the gown operation has expanded to include caps for babies and sweaters for layette sets. All are donated. Schenk starts the process by hitting fabric sales, garage and rummage sales. There she picks up material, ribbon and lace. She buys her own material, rather than accept donations, because she likes to see and feel the material because now, after 25 years, she knows what materials work best. “Generally I don’t leave a rummage sale without a full bag,” she said. She then cuts the material, matches colors and gets to sewing. She’s on her third sewing machine, but No. 2 is still in service for certain things. Her most recent, for which she thanks her husband, Al, is a Brother model that can also do embroidery. She is happy with the additional things it allows her to do with the gowns. Now gowns include lace around the sleeves, neck and bottom hem. With plain material she might add an embroidered pattern to provide highlights. She does this work in what would normally be the third bedroom of their Belgrade home. She and Al are working on fixing up the home they moved to 14 years ago and have done some interior remodeling. Her sewing room is not large and is crowded with her work space and piles of material and racks of ribbon and lace. Everything has its place. She is happy with this setup. Before they moved to their current home they had less space and it was harder for her to keep much of an inventory of material. “Its my room and it looks like my room!” she says. “I started with white satin with pink, white or blue trim,” she said of her early efforts. “Then I started changing colors.” As she worked on gowns she added small caps she calls “premie caps” but really work for any newborn, they help keep a newborn child warm. Caps have been a popular item. “I think I sent a box off once that had 200 caps in it,” she said. She makes caps out of soft, stretchy material now after originally crocheting them. Most of the caps go to the St. Cloud Hospital. “I really enjoy sitting down and sewing,” she said. “I learn something every time I make something.” She also helps make layette sets with her friends at Crow River Lutheran Church. The sets go to parents of newborns and include receiving blankets, a sweater, two “onesies,” four diapers and a sleeper. She makes the sweaters for the sets, the sweaters being a sleeved gown that is open in the front with a tie at the top. She has experimented with different styles and has made some multi-color sweaters where half the sweater of one solid color and the other half with a patterned color that matches. Most of the layettes go to hospitals to give to unwed mothers. Some even go overseas. Sewing is not a full time hobby but she spends some time at it every week. “I don’t do it all the time but when there’s a day when it is raining and nasty I’ll go sit down and sew,” she said. It has been a wet year, which may explain the number of gowns, caps and sweaters she has around the house. At age 79, Angie doesn’t foresee quitting any time soon. She says she will keep sewing as long as she can and as long as she can get material. “I enjoy every minute of it,” she said of her sewing. Her reward is knowing that she is helping others, some in a time of terrible tragedy.

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