Little Angel Gowns

JOHNSTOWN -From the time she was a small child, Jayne Mulligan loved the feel of the material, the tug of thread and the challenge of making something that brings joy, comfort and happiness to others, so she purchased her first sewing machine when she was in the eighth grade.

Years later, leaning on her love of sewing would give her solace and pride during a difficult time – she began sewing for Little Angel Gowns at a time in her life when was facing some major changes. Her husband, Ralph, was dying.

“My husband was in a nursing home and then hospice and I could take the sewing with me and sit there and sew,” said Mulligan, adding her husband also enjoyed her sewing while in the room with him when he was sick.

Little Angel Gowns, a nonprofit organization that makes burial gowns for infants who die at childbirth, are stillborn or pass away shortly afterward, started in 2013 by Nora Murphy. It now has 24 affiliates in seven states.

“Jayne was our first seamstress,” said Carol Ann Selkis, chapter coordinator for the Capital Region. “She is just amazing – we brought her a load of gowns and she had the first one done the next morning. When I saw it, I just cried, it was so beautiful.”

Using donated wedding gowns, formals, First Communion and christening gowns the LAG seamstresses transform them into burial gowns for infants who pass away before or right after birth.

The Capital Region chapter began in 2015, right around the time Mulligan began volunteering her time. So far, the local organization has donated over 400 gowns and made over 600 gowns.

“There is no cost to the parents and no one in LAG has a paid position,” said Mulligan.

The not-for-profit organization send a complete set of burial gowns to area hospitals including St. Mary’s and Nathan Littauer. The set includes both boys and girls gowns from size zero to four, as well as special gowns called “pockets.”

“Our gowns will fit babies up to 13 pounds. They can be as early as 15 to 20 weeks gestation to birth, even premies who don’t make it,” said Selkis, who admits she does not sew, but is a great organizer.

“The woman who started this was a nurse who saw a need and while some grandmas were making something here and there, there wasn’t anything nationwide so she researched it and realized what is more beautiful than a wedding gown to make these little angel gowns,” said Selkis.

Mulligan said making the gowns brings her pride and a sense of helping others during what is a very difficult time.

“The parents are facing a lot and then if they had to worry about going to a store and shopping for something for a baby to wear and the sales clerk asks, ‘A boy or a girl?’ and all those questions when someone just has a baby, this relieves them from that pressure,” said Mulligan.

Each gown comes with a tiny infant hat and a heart, each made from the same material.

“The heart is for the parent to keep – it gives them a little something of their child,” said Mulligan, who knows first-hand the pain of losing a child when she miscarried during one of her pregnancies.

The gowns are made for both boys and girls and are various sizes. For an infant who weighs a pound or less, the organization makes “pockets” – small squares of material with “angel wings” for the child to be dressed in and a pocket to wrap them in. They also make special wrap blankets for Albany Medical.

“Albany Med already was working with someone for gowns, so we asked what could we do and they asked us to make these blankets to wrap the child in to present to the parents,” said Selkis, who said they have also received special requests from funeral homes.

Both Selkis and Mulligan said the organization needs more seamstresses, as well as monetary donations and gift cards.

“We can absolutely use seamstresses who can follow basic patterns and any denomination of gift cards from Joanne’s [Fabrics] or Walmarts so these ladies aren’t spending their own money,” said Selkis.

The organization also takes donations of wedding gowns, formal wear and First Communion dresses.

“We are overwhelmed with the generosity of people,” said Selkis. “It has been amazing.”

Mulligan said the work brings her a great deal of joy even though the gowns she makes are meant for a sad occasion.

“I feel very proud of my accomplishments, but pray the gowns are never used,” said Mulligan

To volunteer or to donate, contact Selkis at 482-5700 or visit the Facebook page for the Little Angel Gowns for the Capital Region.

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