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Sewing machines mend disrupted lives in Louisiana

A little more than three years ago, Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. While governmental agencies were slow to respond, social service and church agencies sprang into action. Millions of aid dollars have been sent and thousands of volunteers have come to help in the rebuilding effort.

Local case managers sponsored by the Episcopal Church have been instrumental in helping hundreds of people return to their homes. Case managers work with clients to develop a long-term recovery plan that addresses their particular problems whether rebuilding, refurnishing, helping with health needs, children’s needs or other concerns.

Social service agencies assist with basic needs. Church agencies have more leeway to provide unique needs that might otherwise go unmet. One such need has been revealed over this period of time.

Many New Orleans women, and men, lost their sewing machines in Katrina. Sewing machines are not considered “essential” household items by social service agencies so those agencies don’t supply replacement machines as a matter of course.

But sewing machines are essential for poorer households since these folks not only make clothes for their children, they also make Mardi Gras costumes, and/or do tailoring for other people. Sewing machines, it turns out, are essential for them.

A dedicated woman in Wisconsin has made seven trips to New Orleans since Katrina bringing used but still functional sewing machines to give away. She distributes them for free from Grace Church in mid-city New Orleans. She has brought more than 300 machines thus far and there is still a waiting list at Grace for future machines.

As a case manager, I am discovering clients who are grieving over the loss of their machines. They simply cannot replace their sewing machines now because they have too many other needs for their money: increased rents, increased utilities, furniture, school uniforms, household supplies, etc.

Two such women have said their mental health has been affected. They not only used their machines to generate income but also their sewing time also gave them peace of mind and tranquility.

Anyone who has a sewing machine still in working order and who cares to donate it is welcome to ship them to New Orleans. The machines will find worthy new homes. Send them to: Ann Ball, Case Manager, St. Paul’s Homecoming Center, 6268 Vicksburg St., New Orleans, LA 70124.

That address is good until the end of 2008. St. Paul’s Homecoming Center will be moving from Lakeview, which is rebounding nicely, to Gentilly in the Ninth Ward, which still has a great deal of work ahead.

The Ninth Ward of New Orleans is a geographically large area encompassing all of the eastern part of the city, which sustained the greatest damage from Katrina.