6,500 Dresses & Counting

By Tracey Moro

Some people remember how they were once helped and they choose to give back, and then there’s Mary Abdalla. At age 95, Mary is still giving back. She continues to make dresses for girls in Africa and has donated more than 6,500 over the years.

When Mary was young her family went through the depression and she remembers the Good Fellows working with the Detroit police passing out Christmas presents – the only ones she would get. “I’ve never forgotten. We played with them for a week and then my parents put them in the closet,” said Abdalla. She explains how her parents would regift the toys numerous times.

Mary never forgot how she felt when she received those gifts and wants to keep giving so others can have that same feeling of hope. During her career working at NBD Bank she connected again with the Good Fellows working on fundraisers, spaghetti dinners, and sewing projects. She became the first female Vice President at NBD retiring after 43 years. “I broke the barrier. I had a good mentor in my boss,” said Abdalla.

Once she retired she continued to do her crafts, sewing and being involved with her church and in the community. She joined a church group that made dresses as part of Little Dresses for Africa. The nonprofit Christian organization sends dresses and “britches” for boys to orphanages, villages and schools in Africa.

During their distributions they teach simple lessons on nutrition, clean water and sanitation planting seeds of worthiness and sending hope. They have delivered more than 8 million dresses to 87 countries in and around Africa and 6,500 came from Mary. No one individual has made and donated that many dresses.

To donate to Mary to help her
continue sewing you may drop
off items at the Pineridge of
Garfield senior living home in
Clinton Township.

Donations can include:
❂ Cotton fabric
❂ New Pillowcases
❂ Decorative trim and lace
❂ Binding
❂ Elastic
❂ Cash/cashier’s checks

While part of the church group Mary sewed what is called a pillowcase dress. Using a pillowcase for the fabric a perfect sun dress can be made. People would donate the pillowcases and she and others in the group would sew, sort by sizes and then deliver to a central location to then be shipped to Africa.

After the church group fizzled out, Mary continued to make the dresses and the britches on her own using donated fabric and pillowcases. Her niece Carol Beninati began helping her a few years back and when she broke her arm last year, Carol jumped in to handle the cutting of the fabric. “It gives her something to do and keeps her mind going,” said Beninati. “She usually spends a couple hours a day sewing and if she can’t sleep she gets up and starts sewing.”

Each dress is a work of art. “She loves to decorate the dresses with trim and will get fabric donated. Depending on how much fabric is there determines how big the dress will be. She’s also made some long skirts for the women. When she receives donations of money we purchase underwear. We bought 300 pairs of underwear at Meijer last time,” said Beninati. “Once we have 400-500 pieces done, we sort by size into colored garbage bags and deliver to a church near Rockford. They then box them with other donations and ship overseas.”

Mary was recently honored for reaching the goal of 6,000 dresses. She received a framed certificate and got to meet Chief Theresa Kachindaamoto who thanked her for all she has done. “They love her work, her standards are high and the dresses are good quality,” said Beninati. “She loves what she is doing.”

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