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Abby Keesler
Sisters from the Nottingham Country Ward in the Katy Texas Stake gather to hand make 'Angel Gowns,' or little burial gowns, for babies who pass away prior to, or shortly after, birth.

When the Relief Society Presidency of the Katy Texas Stake were planning their fall social, held in conjunction with the General Women’s Broadcast in October, they turned to the JustServe.org site to find meaningful service opportunities.

They selected a project for the Angel Gowns Foundation organization. The sisters would create, from donated wedding dresses, little burial gowns for babies who pass away prior to, or shortly after, birth.

Then hurricane Harvey hit and the service project was canceled, allowing LDS members to help with the more immediate needs of hurricane disaster relief in the community. But, one of the congregations had already started working on these service projects.

Angel Gowns

The Nottingham Country Ward took this service request and made it personal. They had two families who had each lost a baby within the past year and both families had been recipients of the beautiful angel burial gowns at the hospital.

Daisy and Seth Page lost their daughter, Isabel Rose, October 2016, at 25 weeks. She had lived for only four days. Abby and Wesley Keesler lost their son, Oliver David, February 2017, at 33 weeks, in utero. In honor of baby Isabel and baby Oliver, the Nottingham Country Ward Young Women and Relief Society organizations set a goal of sewing 50 baby burial gowns.

Cutting out the little patterns for the gowns took time, and many donated wedding dresses were needed. Keesler, the mother of baby Oliver, took on this challenge. The Emmanuel Episcopal Church, where Angel Gowns Foundation meets each month, donated seven bridal dresses for the goal of 70 baby burial gowns. But, as it turned out, that was not enough for what Keesler, an experienced seamstress, had in mind. The project became a very tender and personal opportunity.

“This was a way to give back and serve those who had served me and my family and share my talents in the process," she said.

With her sister-in-law, Tiffany Hansen, and other sisters, including Daisy Page, Keesler cut patterns out of additional wedding gowns donated by members of the ward.

Page recalled, “When I heard about doing the baby gowns project, I was excited and grateful. After my baby passed away I wanted to do whatever I could to support the charity that had donated the beautiful baby angel gown to our daughter, Isabel Rose. I donated my own wedding dress and a few extra ones from friends and family. But having the opportunity to not only donate the wedding dresses but to actually make something beautiful out of them, was a privilege and a blessing.”

Wedding Dresses

After hundreds of hours of preparation work and cutting out the tiny patterns, the kits were prepared for a sewing day, hosted at Abby’s house. More than 30 sisters of the Nottingham Country Ward came that day and on additional days. The goal of 50 burial gowns was quickly met, but the efforts did not stop. There were still more donated wedding dresses to cut and the work continued.

Barbara Salt, the Relief Society President for the Nottingham Country ward, shared her thoughts when donating her own mother’s wedding gown, “I have been holding onto my mother’s wedding dress for all of these years. I couldn’t part with it until this opportunity came to donate it to this great cause. What joy fills my heart to see her dress bless a grieving family.”

When hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area, shortly after the big sewing day, some sisters who had taken extra kits home with them, kept sewing as the storm brewed. Houston resident, Michelle Schmidt, sewed 15 gowns during the four-day storm. Michelle exclaimed, “We still had power and were not in danger of initial flooding. But everyone was still nervous, especially with all the tornado and flash flood warnings. I just kept sewing to calm my nerves and focus on something positive.”

Keesler and her sister-in-law, Hansen, had to evacuate during the storm but took gowns with them and hand sewed the gowns with buttons, bows and embellishments, as they waited to return to their homes.

In total, the sisters of the Nottingham Country Ward sewed 152 baby burial gowns. These gowns were on display during the Women’s Broadcast, in a spirit of handiwork and reverence for the sweet souls being served. Most of the gowns were delivered to the Angel Gowns Foundation organization at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church while Abby and Daisy took some to the hospitals that cared for them when they lost their babies.

With all the service rendered during Hurricane Harvey, these tender acts of service complimented all the Mormon Helping Hands efforts. Katy Stake Relief Society President, Kim Higbee, said, “It is hard to imagine what it must be like to lose a baby. … But, our sisters have derived great joy in knowing that something quite small … might bring a measure of peace and joy to someone else.”

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