Young girls halfway around the world will be getting a treat from stitchers in Carbon County.

Thanks to the owners of The Quilted Crow, a Lehighton quilt shop, simple but brightly-patterned dresses will soon be on their way to Central Africa.

"I was watching 'Sewing with Nancy' on PBS said Cindy Mengel-Smith, one of the shop's owners, "and she had on a special guest who started the program."

That guest would be Rachel O'Neill of Brownstown, Mich., who a few years ago, on a mission trip to Africa with a small group of women, noticed the tattered dresses worn by the young girls in the village.

The group was determined to help in some way. Upon their return, they decided to make dresses for the girls.

When someone suggested using a simple pillowcase pattern, they began in earnest, and the Little Dresses for Africa program was born. Quilters and stitchers from across the country have donated over 175,000 dresses.

While most go to Africa, the program also answers the call to provide dresses, and "Britches for Boys" as well, to other countries in crisis, such as Honduras, Guatemala, Philippines, Mexico and Haiti. The program has also sent dresses to children in need here in the United States, in the Appalachian Mountains and in South Dakota.

Its motto is "We're not just sending dresses, we're sending HOPE!"

While many of the donations have been actual pillowcases converted into dresses, Mengel-Smith and partner Jane Heckman opted to use pretty fabric to craft their dresses. They invited their customers to join them on Super Bowl Sunday afternoon, and welcomed over a half-dozen sewers to their shop on Interchange Road.

The women purchased or brought their own fabric, while The Quilted Crow provided lunch. A total of 46 dresses were donated, in a variety of sizes. In addition to following the simple pattern, several of the women embellished their creations with rickrack or lace, and some even added pockets.

Mengel-Smith and Heckman will ship their dresses to Nancy Zieman of Nancy's Notions and "Sewing with Nancy," who will combine them with other donations and prepare them for the trip to Africa.

This is not the first time Mengel-Smith and Heckman have gathered their customers for a cause. Each year they hold a quilt block challenge, where quilters are provided with a challenge fabric, and then use their creativity to design a quilt block relative to breast cancer awareness.

Other customers and visitors to the shop vote for their favorite block by making a $1 donation for each vote. The money is then donated to breast cancer research. Last year's blocks are currently being worked into a full-size quilt, which will then be raffled off to raise even more money.

The Quilted Crow has also sponsored its customers in creating baby quilts that were donated to Care Net of Carbon County. Those quilts are "sold" to new or expectant parents who take parenting classes at Care Net, whereby they earn "Mommy Money" and "Daddy Dollars" to purchase items for their babies.

For more information on the Little Dresses for Africa program, visit http://www.littledressesforafrica.org/blog/ [1]. For more information on The Quilted Crow, visit http://www.the-quiltedcrow.com/ [2].