On the third Saturday of every month, volunteers gather at First Baptist Church in Tehachapi to fulfill a special purpose: creating Angel Gowns to dress infants for eternal sleep.
Each meeting begins with a prayer for the families who will be receiving the garments, which are crafted from deconstructed wedding gowns, suits and other formal attire donated to the ministry.
Each gown is made with love, and, when finished, are breathtakingly beautiful. Embedded in the silky fabric are many a prayer, as well as a few tears.
Turning sorrow into beauty
In 2017, Patti Browne received a wedding dress her cousin, Susan Moore, wore in 1950 from her mother, Bonnie Moore-Moffitt. She decided to find a purpose for the vintage gown by turning the fabric into lovely funeral attire for infants. She has since named this endeavor David’s Cradle.
Browne approached her pastor and his wife, John and Nita Lopez, at First Baptist Church in Tehachapi, and told them of her idea for David’s Cradle. Pastor and Mrs. Lopez embraced Browne's idea with open arms, and gave it a home.
"A church cannot function without ministry to the community," said Nita Lopez. "We have to show the community that people care, and people care about hurt and hardships and what we go through and let them know that there is hope in all of this. We don't understand it, but we know that God is powerful, and he loves us, and he knows the reason. This is a ministry of hope for those who go through this."
The ministry continued until a tragic loss resulted in an unexpected growth in operations. About a year ago, Browne received a call from Susan Linder, a Bakersfield woman who founded Angel Gowns of Kern County.
"We lost Susan last December to cancer, and she asked me to take Angel Gowns of Kern County over to be part of David's Cradle so that we could continue this ministry and combine them together," said Browne.
Now that both ministries operate under the same entity, Browne said she has been able to expand their outreach to Bakersfield and beyond.
Browne said the ministry is a labor of love as each gown represents a grief process, both for the families as well as the volunteers.
"I've helped dress a child that was lost," Browne said with tears in her eyes. "To see that family grieving was painful."
A growing effort
Since its inception, and merger with Angel Gowns, David's Cradle continues to grow both in volunteers as well as services it provides.
Currently, the volunteers include two husband and wife teams who reside in Bakersfield and travel up the hill each month to help build on the inventory.
Sally Hulsey and her husband, Jack, of Bakersfield, are two such volunteers.
This year, Sally entered two of her gowns into the 2019 Kern County Fair, and both won ribbons, first and second place, in the category of children's garments for competitive exhibits.
"When they realized what they were, they were really moved," Jack said of the reaction the gowns received by exhibit coordinators.
Sally said she and Jack have been volunteering for the past year.
"We started when we brought up a wedding dress that belonged to my niece," said Sally.
Serving as a volunteer is Linda Stivers of Tehachapi, and her daughter Kerry Knight, who helps from her home.
"I pray for the baby and the family as I am making them because I feel like the prayer goes with the blanket," said Stivers of the infant wraps she creates. "I feel like God blesses that, and that the infants are wrapped in love and covered in prayer."
Charlene Relyea, of Tehachapi, said she was introduced to the sewing ministry after attending a women's fellowship at the church.
"Patti Browne gave a presentation that day, and it just broke my heart," said Relyea, holding back her tears. "I knew that was God's calling for me to be a part of this ministry."
Since its inception, former Kern Medical Center NICU nurse Carol Batelaan, of Tehachapi, has been a volunteer of David's Cradle.
"When I was a NICU nurse in the 1990s, there was nothing like this," said Batelaan. "This is so wonderful, because it gives them closure in a beautiful way."
Help is available
In addition to infant gowns and infant wraps for babies too small or fragile to dress, David's Cradle also serves cancer patients and families who have suffered tragedies by providing hats and prayer blankets in an effort to spread compassion and love. Pastor John Lopez is also available for pastoral support. There is never a cost to the family.
David's Cradle continues to accept donations of dresses and suits of all sizes and colors, and always encourages volunteers to join in and share their talents. Drop-off donation sites are located in both Tehachapi and Bakersfield.
Donations of yarn, fabric, thread and other sewing items are also sought, as well as monetary donations.
For more information about David’s Cradle, call Patti Browne at 972-7172. Donation arrangements can also be made by calling Browne or at the First Baptist Church, located at 1049 S. Curry St.
More information can also be found on Facebook for both David's Cradle and Angel Gowns of Kern County pages.