Only a few years ago, Sandra Corbett couldn’t sew a straight line. Now every stitch she makes comes from the heart. Corbett helps transform donated wedding, prom and formal dresses into “angel” gowns. These tiny handmade burial garments are for newborns who never leave the hospital, many far too small for traditional clothing. Providing the gowns is one stress lifted off the shoulders of parents coping with grief. It honors the child and lets a family know that someone cares.
Corbett currently lives in Texas, but West Point is her home — one she intends to move back to in a couple of years — and she is bringing Angel Gowns to northeast Mississippi. Angel Gowns is a nationally registered program with volunteers throughout the country repurposing donated dresses. The resulting infant outfits are distributed to hospitals, funeral homes and anywhere else they are needed and provided free to families. They are made in sizes from pouches for very early losses to gowns for the smallest preemies to full-term infants.
Becoming an Angel Gowns volunteer in 2016 wasn’t an easy decision for the 58-year-old Corbett.
“Someone told me about it, but I thought, ‘I can’t do it,'” she said by phone from her home in Lake Dallas. “I’d had a miscarriage, and I didn’t even want to think about it.” But a tearful call from a friend in West Point about a year ago deeply affected her.
“She told me her grandbaby had passed away. It was premature. She said to me, ‘Sandra, one of the hardest things was we couldn’t find a gown small enough for the baby.’ … The Lord touched my heart to do something about it.”
Corbett made up her mind to attend an Angel Gowns meeting in her community. “They showed me how to make a little outfit. I took off sewing and haven’t stopped since.” She is now well on her way to growing an Angel Gowns network in the Golden Triangle and surrounds — but more volunteers and dress donations are needed.
Some initial publicity in West Point and the Tupelo area in late July has already generated 16 or so donated wedding or prom dresses. Currently, the main drop-off point for them is the home of JoAnn Jackson in Aberdeen. She’s Corbett’s sister.
“I got 10 dresses in one day!” Jackson relayed with a pleased smile. “My bed was stacked almost up to the ceiling with dresses.” It’s a problem she’s glad to have. “When Sandra told me she was going to do this, I wanted to help in any way I could.”
One size 12 dress can yield 26 to 27 sets that include a gown, a bonnet and a keepsake memory pillow, so there is plenty of fabric cutting involved. Jackson will be helping with that. “And I can pick up dresses and deliver them to hospitals and funeral homes.” When dress donors provide their names and contact information, Angel Gowns of Mississippi volunteers can send a photo showing infant sets that dress was used to make.
“To me, it’s just a good ministry,” said volunteer Sandra Bumgardner of Tupelo. She read about Corbett’s cause in the paper there and knew she had to call. She’d been searching for the right purpose to donate her daughter’s wedding gown to for several years. Now Bumgardner is accepting dresses for the Tupelo area and delivering them to JoAnn Jackson in Aberdeen.
“So far I’ve ended up with at least 12 gowns here; my truck is getting full!” Bumgardner said. “It’s a wonderful cause.”
Susan Spencer is the director of Maternal Child at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle. In her 42-year career in obstetrics, she has too often seen the need for gowns such as these. The hospital in Columbus currently receives them from a group in Florida, but Spencer is glad to know area volunteers are organizing.
The passing of an infant is devastating, she said. “I think it’s important to realize that it affects mom and dad and grandparents very deeply. … It’s extremely valuable and very comforting to the families to be given these (garments) and not to have to try to go out looking for it.” The gowns, she added, “are very beautiful and respectful for the tiny babies.”
Angel Gowns of Mississippi is seeking more dress donations and area volunteers to serve as drop-off locations, cut fabric (patterns are provided), sew or deliver gowns. “When we get enough finished, we’ll contact hospitals and funeral homes and donate these little sets to them,” Corbett said.
For volunteers, making the gowns is a loving gesture, almost a sacred purpose.
“I appreciate so much the people that donate for this,” said Corbett. “They use the (wedding) dress one time for their special day, and now it’s being used for another very special day.”
Bumgardner acknowledges that the cause can weigh on the heart, that it may not be for everybody, “but you have to think about the big picture — that you’re doing something to help someone else through a bad time in their lives. If you can help a family going through something like this, to me, it’s worth it.”
Corbett welcomes inquiries. For more information, email her at email@example.com or contact her at 662-436-1603.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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