OK, so here’s the thing I’ve been thinking about.
I made these cute little cotton sundresses last week, just because I was in the mood to do so. Nobody asked for them. Nobody particularly needed them. I have no little girls at home. I have some young great-nieces, but didn’t make the dresses in their sizes. I simply sewed, without regard for eventual recipient, figuring that somebody, somewhere, could use them. Because they were really cute, right?
Now let me go get my eyes checked, because I somehow failed to see the giant red flag that was waving right in front of me.
Something just felt wrong to me as I was stitching and gathering and hemming. Why wasn’t I enjoying making these little things? Summer fabrics are a joy, and the designs were simple and wonderful. Why did I feel vaguely uncomfortable with what I was producing?
By the time I’d put in the final stitches, I’d figured it out. This was a totally self-indulgent exercise. A charitable donation, perhaps, but not the sort of charity I feel good about. Yes, some little girls who accompany their mothers to the women’s shelter where I ended up sending the dresses will have something new and fresh to wear. But realistically, their mothers could get much more good out of a Wal-Mart gift card, getting children’s clothes and a lot more, too (and it pains me to say that, because I really loathe Wal-Mart, but if you have to make a few dollars stretch a long way, there’s no sense in going anyplace else.)
And the shelter itself could benefit more from a check to help buy the food and repair the plumbing and hire the counselors.
The donation of three cotton dresses and a skirt doesn’t exactly equate to kicking puppies. But I still felt a little uneasy about the thoughtlessness of it. And it was a good reminder to stay on track with what I want to do with such projects. Note to self: Begin with the need in mind. Contribute to an organization like a hospital or well-run agency where they’ve already determined this need. And if they need something hand-made, you'll know that you’ll be making things that will be truly useful.
Best of all, self, stick to making things that aren’t easy to find or affordable to get anywhere else. Specialized preemie garments, bereavement outfits, chemo caps, even the odd catheter bags a group of us made last year – they all fall into that category. So do cool ties for the soldiers, and warm knitted garments for groups like Afghans for Afghans or the Dulaan project, where international shipping regulations are more flexible for hand-knitted gifts than for factory-made merchandise.
In other words, there’s plenty of opportunity out there to serve. Sometime we do it by crafting, sometimes by writing a check, sometimes by rolling up our sleeves to volunteer with physical work. The challenge lies in matching our actions with the greatest possible benefit. If we’re lucky, we get it right.
On to lighter topics next week. In the meantime, I'm off to Chicago for a three-day estrogen-fest with my sisters and assorted nieces. Have a great weekend, everyone!