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This Volunteer Group Repurposes Wedding Dresses for Grieving Families

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Angel Wings of Lake Travis gives wedding dresses new life as infant gowns for grieving parents.

By Kasee Bailey, Photos courtesy of Angel Wings of Lake Travis 

Imagine a symbol of the happiest day of your life helping someone else on the worst day of hers. This heartwarming prospect guides the work of local group Angel Wings of Lake Travis, a community of volunteers who turn donated wedding dresses into infant burial clothing for families that have lost a child.

Co-founders Marilyn Nielson and Sandy Crider were on their way to a bunco game night when they first toyed with the idea of forming a volunteer group similar to one they’d recently seen on the news. With the drive to help others and a few crafty talents of their own, the two decided to form a volunteer group aimed at helping families during their most devastating life experiences.

In the past four years, Nielson and Crider, along with co-founder Barbara Carpenter, who were later joined by a host of helpers, have transformed hundreds of donated wedding dresses into an estimated 4,000 angel gowns. Through their efforts, they strive to ease the suffering of grieving families who’ve lost an infant, all while joining together as a community of women to give back.

“We enjoy all getting together,” Nielson says. “We are happy to be able to help. We’ve gotten to be real close.”

The group gathers locally every other week to work their fashion magic. Donated gowns are logged, tagged, photographed on mannequins and deconstructed. The Angel Wings seamstresses then select specific gowns to take home, refashioning those prized possessions into tiny, gorgeous angel gowns, burial garments for newborns, infants and babies. About once a year, Nielson, the designated deliverer, transports 50 to 100 angel gowns—wraps and clothing in four infant sizes—to local hospitals, as well as to other hospitals throughout the country in an effort to ease some suffering for grieving families that have lost a baby.

In the crafty hands of Angel Wings volunteers, a typical wedding gown can become anywhere from eight to 15 angel gowns, and more can be created from dresses that have long trains. But Nielson notes the group could create even more angel gowns with additional seamstress volunteers and says Angel Wings is always happy to
add more hospitals to its growing list of recipient institutions.

Angel Wings volunteer Tara Shaw runs the team’s website and coordinates the photographing of donated wedding gowns and the resulting angel gowns, allowing brides the chance to see the creations beautifully fashioned from their individual gowns.

While it’s initially an emotional challenge to cut into an elegant wedding gown, Nielson says she knows the end products serve as sources of comfort for families undergoing unimaginable hardship.

“We do it so that the parents during the hardest day of their life don’t have to worry about how to dress their little angel,” Nielson says. “I enjoy delivering [to the hospitals], and we always say, ‘We hope you don’t have to use them, but we know you will.’ This will give some comfort to the families in their very hard times. It’s just something we do with the love of our hearts just to help people.”

Angel Wings of Lake Travis has four drop-off locations for dresses. Check the group’s website for more information. Group organizers welcome interested volunteers to donate or meet with them every other week at 10 a.m. at Rough Hollow’s Highland Village in Lakeway, Texas, for gown deconstructing.

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