As a young girl, Rief remembers helping her mother make quilts for the Lutheran World Relief. So, when Rief's mother approached her about working with the Little Dresses for Africa organization, Rief didn't hesitate – and she knew exactly who to call on for help, her older sister.
“I got interested simply to be supportive of Tracie. But that was a short order. It wasn't long before I was addicted,” Kuijvenhoven said, while sewing bright flowered pockets on a pink dress.
Little Dresses for Africa is a nonprofit Christian organization that provides relief to children in Africa by making them simple dresses and shorts out of pillowcases.
“We are so fortunate really when you think about it,” Rief said, tears welling in her eyes. “What do we have to bitch about. This is real – we are fortunate.”
With encouragement from her mother, Lila Teegerstrom of York, Neb., Rief and Kuijvenhoven gained momentum for the organization in this area about two years ago.
Rief put the word out in the local newspapers and the response from people was wonderful, she said.
She got volunteers who helped with sewing, ironing and cutting out the patterns, using donated pillowcases, as well as lace and other fun material, to dress up the simple pattern.
She also got donations to cover shipping the finished items to Little Dress for Africa's headquarters in Michigan, which costs anywhere from $250 to $600, Rief said.
On occasion, Rief holds a work day where she invites community members to bring their sewing machines; Rief provides the materials to make the dresses.
Last month, in Montrose, about six women turned out to help, one of whom was Ridgway resident Linda Smith.
Smith had just returned from a two-week medical mission in Kenya. She saw many of the girls there wearing the Little Dresses, she said. When she returned, she saw the announcement for the work day in The Watch, and dusted off her sewing machine.
“They don't have anything. All the kids I saw were clothed, but raggedy,” Smith said. “They are extremely grateful. The most grateful people I've ever seen.”
When Rief came onboard at Little Dresses for Africa, the organization had already provided 30,000 dresses to African girls in need. Today, the organization has received dresses and donations from all 50 states, and more than 500,000 dresses have been distributed in 31 countries of Africa, according to its website, www.littledressesforafrica.org. It also has sent dresses to countries in crisis, such as Haiti, and to American children who are struggling in the Appalachian mountains and South Dakota.
“It really is heartwarming,” Rief said.
To help or donate, call Tracie Rief at (970) 209-5979.