On a Tuesday night at Sylvania United Church of Christ, Gabriel’s Gowns volunteers take a moment to admire some of the wedding dresses laid out in front of them. Beautiful gowns, just some of the many stored by the group, are donated by women from around the area. But it was what they would become— and the meaning behind this project— that seemed most beautiful.
Gabriel’s Gowns, founded by former Toledo radio personality Sara Hegarty and her husband, Shaun (13abc Investigative Reporter) is a group which takes donated wedding dresses and uses them to make burial gowns for babies who never come home. “Born sleeping,” as Hegarty puts it. Over the past four years, the group has made over 3,000 gowns to be distributed to hospitals both in Northwest Ohio and outside the area.
Doing something meaningful
Pat Detzel, coordinator for Gabriel’s Gowns, explains that gowns have been distributed in Dayton, Columbus, Connecticut and even Haiti. She came to work for the group after hearing a call for donations on the radio. She donated her own wedding dress and began to learn about the charity.
“The people who volunteered to sew planned to meet,” Detzel said. “And I mentioned it to my mom, and asked her ‘Do you think this is a project we could take to church?’ Because I know we have people at church that sew. And my mom suggested, ‘Let’s go to the meeting and see.’”
With the help of her mother, Ellen Bowers, now Gabriel’s Gowns’ head sewer, the group began holding regular meetings at the church, where volunteers would pick up a dress and take it home to make gowns.
“I would say anywhere from a half an hour to an hour,” Bowers estimated when asked how long the process takes. “And from one wedding gown you can make anywhere from 10 to 15 to 20 [gowns], depending on how elaborate the gown is.”
“It makes me feel good that I’m doing something for someone at a sad time in their life,” said Mary Grace Grzybowski, who has created over 500 gowns for the charity in the past two years.
Sandy Hauter, a member of Sylvania UCC, has made gowns for over three years. She said she never had sewn before she began work with Gabriel’s Gowns, adding, “Now I have two sewing machines.”
Helping the volunteers
Sara Hegarty, who was inspired to create the group after the loss of her son Gabriel in 2013, manages the distribution of completed gowns to hospitals, but Pat and Ellen truly run the operation at Sylvania United, calling the work meaningful to them and the volunteers as well as to the families who they support.
“There was one volunteer that we had who had experienced a loss, and it was several years ago, and so she sewed. And that was her way to give back and it was therapeutic for her. And at one point, she brought all her stuff back and said, ‘I’m good now. I’m recovered. I don’t need this anymore.’ “We didn’t know when we started this that we would be helping more than the families that were experiencing loss, that we would also be helping the volunteers.”
Gabriel’s Gowns meets every other month at
Wright Hall in Sylvania United Church of Christ
7240 Erie St. | Sylvania
The next session will be held on
Tuesday, September 18 from 5 to 7pm