Although they are all employed in the education field, the women of the Xi Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International haven't really stopped working all summer.

The group of dedicated current and retired teachers, administrators and education specialists from Atlantic and Cumberland counties have been meeting periodically outside the classroom during their summer break to work on outreach initiatives and projects that give back to the community.

Recently, members met to work on their on-going "Little Dresses for Haiti" project that turns pillowcases into dresses for little girls in the poverty-stricken Caribbean country.

Even before the devastating earthquake in 2010, things were in bad shape there because of the poverty, and it is common for children under 11 to run around barely clothed, explained Barbara Barresi, a Hamilton Township teacher and the communications chairperson for the Xi Chapter.

The women got involved in the project about three years ago after learning that chapter member Linda Zarych's daughter traveled to Haiti with her church group to aid the poor. The humanitarian group was seeking volunteers to sew pillowcase dresses to be distributed during its next trip.

The group learned from literature supplied by relief organizations that little girls wearing clothing tend not to become victims of violence because they appear to be well-cared-for children, not street orphans.

"This project is close to our hearts because it's all about the children," agreed retired teacher Sandy Santa Maria. "And helping children is why we all became educators in the first place."

Santa Maria has been a member of the Delta Kappa Gamma's Xi Chapter for 17 years, is a past chapter president and also serves as the organization's convention chair.

Her Egg Harbor Township home is one of the gathering places for the group's sewing parties. Each room serves as a different station. Sewing machines are set up in the dining room and there's an ironing board in the family room. The living room and kitchen area are designated for basting the fabric, threading the ribbons and sewing on appliques.

Each of the little dresses makes it way through the assembly line. Up to 40 little dresses can be completed in one session, depending on the number of sewers who show up. Once completed, the dresses are folded and set aside in a big suitcase where they will be added to the next outgoing shipment.

"We always try to make them as pretty as we can. If we have lace we will add that to the bottom or maybe some fancy ribbons," said Santa Maria. "We got a big donation of bows that someone had left over from her daughter's wedding so that was nice."

The group buys all the materials, but appreciates donations of pillowcases or sewing materials. Any size pillowcase is usable, but they really love getting ones with prints or patterns because they need less adornment, she said.

The group also sells necklaces, bracelets and earrings, all handcrafted by Haitian women, at its annual Delta Kappa Gamma state convention held each spring. The group does not profit, as 100 percent of the sales go back to the artisans. Barresi said they were able to send back $1,000 in jewelry sales last spring, which helps the Haitian artisans pay for their children's food, shelter and education.

The chapter has been doing this for the past several years to provide additional support to the Haitian women and their families, and it has been very successful in terms of sales. Because the artisans use discarded materials to create their "upcycled" jewelry, each piece is unique and they get a lot of requests for them, Barresi said.

The Haiti project is just one facet of the charitable work the Xi Chapter contributes to year-round in the South Jersey area.

Members volunteer at Gilda's Club of South Jersey, serve meals at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission and put together personal care bags that they donate to the Atlantic County Women's Center. The organization also provides student scholarships and awards small grants to working educators, as well as conducting professional development workshops and networking opportunities.

Currently 45 members strong, the chapter serves Atlantic and Cumberland counties and is always seeking new membership of women in the education field to carry the chapter forward, Barresi said.

The organization is also getting ready to stage its annual "Scrapbooking Extravaganza," which it considers the major fundraiser of the year.

The event will take place from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 4 in the Northfield Community School cafetorium, located off New Road in Northfield. Participants bring their own supplies and projects to work on, and in return they are provided with a work space, specialty tools and breakfast, lunch and dinner. The cost is $50 and participants must preregister by Sept. 22.

Event information can be found online

at getscrappy.eventbrite.

com or mail a check to Xi Chapter Fundraiser, 345 Chicago Ave., Egg Harbor City.

For more information or to make a sewing donation, call 609-350-3274.

Or visit the local chapter's website at dkgalp

calendar.html

Contact Lucia C. Drake:

609-272-7295

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.