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Oct. 25, 2021 | Monday
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When families need an angel
Cindy Hernder with Precious Angel Niagara gowns she made. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

Precious Angels Niagara repurposes donated wedding dresses to create angel gowns for stillborn and miscarried babies across Ontario.

It’s not something anyone wants to think about, but there is a need for the service the organization provides.

It was born out of curiosity, necessity and kindness. Robyn Moore, co-founder of Precious Angels Niagara was looking to donate her wedding dress in an effort to de-clutter. After hearing about a foundation in Texas that converts old wedding dresses into gowns for babies who have died, Moore tried to find something similar in Niagara. When one couldn’t be found, she created Precious Angels Niagara.

With co-founder Lynn McIntyre-Enns, they started on Moore’s dress. The plan was to create a few angel gowns to donate to the St. Catharine’s hospital. It has since grown rapidly through word of mouth – they now supply gowns to hospitals and funeral homes across Ontario.

Moore says after some friends heard about what they were trying to accomplish, they stepped forward to see what they could do to help.

The charity grew steadily, receiving more than 800 dresses to date. In October 2017 they held a dress drive, bringing in over 500 dresses. “The support and generosity was overwhelming.”

Each donated dress can make about 10 angel gowns. 

The charity is run by volunteers at no cost to families. She says she’s been asked how much the dresses cost. It’s not something families should have to worry about during an already difficult time, she says, “It’s all donated.”

Moore organizes the fundraising and distribution of the dresses, and is always on the lookout for hospitals or funeral homes who could use the gowns. “It’s sort of become a full-time job.”

They send five or 10 dresses at a time, so they’re on hand when the “sad need arises.”

“We’re preparing to dress about 5,000 baby losses, which is really sad. It’s sad that there is a need. I guess it’s a bitter sweet thing that we’re doing. We wish there was never a need. But when the sad need arises for families, we’re able to give some honour and some dignity to the baby. And it brings some comfort to parents, too, to see the baby dressed as a little angel. They’ll always have that memory of them.”

The wedding dresses and the time spent creating the gowns are all donated. She says it takes more than seamstresses to run something like this - the community has come together to help.

The boxes they use to present the gowns and required sewing supplies are all purchased, but there are also many community businesses that have offered their services for the charity.

Their business cards and labels for the boxes were donated by Peninsula Press in St. Catharines. Manor Cleaners Ltd. offered to clean the 500 donated wedding dresses for free. Some of the distribution is also donated. Messengers International courier service offered to deliver the gowns at no charge within their territory.

“While the wedding dresses are donated to us, everything else is not. We fundraise and spend our own personal money to continue this service.

We need to purchase sewing supplies, a detachable angel charm that the mother can keep, a Precious Angel garment tag, and we put them in a tissue-lined clear top box. Those costs add up, but we don’t charge.”

Coyote’s Run Winery donates money from returned bottles from their tasting bar. Moore said she thought it was going to be a one-time donation, but it’s been an on-going fundraiser.

Two retirement homes also stepped up, offering to dismantle the dresses. Tabor Manor and Heidehof, both in St. Catharines, as part of their life enrichment program. She said the ladies dismantle the donated dresses and put them into bundles, which the seamstresses take home to make into the gowns.

Moore said one of their most dedicated volunteer seamstresses is Cindy Hernder, a NOTL resident.

“It’s hard to believe that she’s a volunteer and she doesn’t do this professionally. They look like little wedding gowns, they’re just gorgeous.”

Hernder said she enjoys the challenge of creating the gowns. Working with her hands by herself is something she says she loves. Before volunteering with the charity, she hadn’t sewn in years. “The timing was perfect.”

“The design challenge working with the dresses. You get a wedding gown and you look at it, and it just sort of speaks to you. It dictates what you’re going to do to it. I think about all the love surrounding those wedding gowns. Taking that and making them into these. The group had been together for about a year. I never knew such a service existed.”

The charity is now close to her heart.

“My girlfriend had told me that they had donated her daughter-in-law’s dress. It had set me on the path of looking into it myself.” She says there was a bigger connection to the charity than she initially thought.

“She happened to be married to my godson. Her name was Becky Sticca. She died when she was 31, five years after she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. She told the family, before she died, that she would take care of the babies. And then I found out about this, and I thought this was a perfect fit for that. I was able to work on Becky’s dress as well.”

She says it was meaningful to be able to work on her dress.

“I feel like I’ve got an angel on my shoulder when I work on these dresses; that’s Becky. That’s what got me started.”

The organization doesn’t need any more volunteers or dresses now, but Moore says when they do, she will put out a post on their Facebook page. If anyone wants to help, they do accept monetary donations to cover the cost of supplies. Donations can be made through their gofundme account.

Hernder says this charity is close to her heart, and she’s proud to be a part of it. “There’s an infinite number of volunteer options out there, and Precious Angels has been the perfect fit for me.”

Moore added, “You’re the perfect fit for us.”