The women and men of Fluvanna Community Church work year-round on a wonderful ministry that provides protective clothing, quilts and toys to an orphanage in Juarez, Mexico.
Resplandor de Vida Children's Home is run by Harvest Hands Ministry, whose founders are Garry and Terry Mathewson. Mrs. Mathewson is the daughter of Margaret Blakeslee, who is the chairperson of FCC's Hands of Love Ministry, therefore the Jamestown church has chosen the Mexican ministry as one of its mission projects.
''In the beginning we were mostly doing dolls, which we make soft so they are cuddly,'' Mrs. Blakeslee said. ''Many times the children use the dolls for pillows. We have made a total of 651 dolls over the last 14 years. In the past the late Dave Strickland, the late Bob Johnson and Randy Hallberg wrapped yarn for hair for the dolls. The women greatly appreciated them doing this, as it was a very boring job.''
Margaret Blakeslee presents Pastor Dayle Keefer with a prayer shawl like the ones the mission team from Fluvanna Community Church took on its trip to Mexico. In back from left to right are Nancy Hayes, Dottie Muzzy, June Swanson and Colleen Schroder.
Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland
When the men wrap the various yarns for hair they wind it very evenly around a large hairpin-like frame, made by Charles Blakeslee. A knot is tied at the end. Mrs. Blakeslee stitches down the center of each piece, by machine with matching thread using a stabilizer made of a strip of interfacing. This is the anchor and the center back hair line of the dolls hair (wig) and is the first thing attached by sewing to the dolls head. A knot is tied every few stitches for a stronger hold. The ladies then become hairdressers and try to fit the hairstyle to the dolls face, which Mrs. Blakeslee has painted.
''A lot of people take doll dress kits and work behind the scenes, but don't come to group gatherings. If people don't have (sewing) machines they will sew doll dresses by hand,'' she said. ''We had men members that made wooden toys. George Dahlin, Bill Ward, Bob Johnson and Dave Strickland all made wooden toys.''
Nancy Hayes says she helps tie and sandwich quilts, cuts out aprons and crochets hats and shawls.
There are many jobs that can be done in an assembly line fashion. Each item gets a ''Made in America'' label so they can be taken across the border. Colleen Schroder has sewn on many of the labels, as well as cut and stuffed dogs and cats and decorated them with bows.
''I help where needed and sew whatever needs to be sewn, specifically doll limbs and bodies, quilts and aprons,'' Dottie Muzzy said.
June Swanson says she has worked on dolls, dogs and quilts.
Rachel Leonard presented 14 quilts to the group and Mary Ann Smith is a knitter of hats and mittens. Nancy Ruttenbur and Jackie Thies sew doll dresses, too. Mrs. Blakeslee says the group really appreciates doll dressmakers because they are hard to come by.
The women knit hats to add to the packages, as these are worn year-round since the desert is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Children's gloves and tiny baby hats are sent, as well. Skirts are made for the Mexican ladies and pillowcases are made for the orphanage. The bandanas that are sent are used by both men and women.
''We accept these same items from the people in the community, as well,'' Mrs. Blakeslee said. ''We also tie the shoe-box ministry into this ministry in November so Mexican Children receive the boxes as gifts for Christmas. It really is a remarkable and loving ministry.''
The items are sent every year at this time and earlier this year the church sent leftover items from a rummage sale, such as afghans and other items that were of use to the desert-dwelling people.
''When Pastor Dayle (Keefer) and our mission team went to Mexico, they passed out shawls to the women because it was so cold. Because the elevation is so high the temperature really drops at night,'' Mrs. Blakeslee said.
Mrs. Blakeslee says her daughter and son-in-law have been in the mission field for 15 years, with the last 12 being with Harvest Hands. The people live in very modest pallet homes. The ministry provides vitamins to the pregnant women and makes sure they are seen at least once by a doctor, early in their pregnancy.
''It's a very humbling ministry and a lot of work,'' she said. ''Area residents (who are not affiliated with the church) are welcome to participate in the group. When we meet we have fellowship, we share our concerns, encourage each other and have prayer where needed. We have refreshments and have fun. We try to help each other. We like to share recipes and bring in samples''
Donations of thread, fabric, yarn and lace are gratefully accepted.
Other participants in Hands of Love Ministries are Charlene Forness, Jackie Hopkins, Alice Johnson, Sharon Klein, Jackie Racik, Roberta Schoonover and Betty Thomas.