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GARMENTS TO COMFORT ANGEL GOWNS OF SOUTH BAY HELPS GRIEVING PARENTS BY TRANSFORMING USED BRIDAL GOWNS by Valerie Electra Smith-Griffin Angel Gowns of South Bay volunteers (l to r) Marlene Bauman, Heidi Strohm, Gayle Fleury, and Kathy Creighton (photo Valerie Electra Smith Griffin)

When shopping for a bridal gown, shows like TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress” highlight this important experience, where euphoric emotions are de rigueur. Ultimately, after a memorable wedding day and idyllic honeymoon, reality greets newlyweds. Normalcy and married life begins, and that once longed-for and obsessed over gown meets its final destination, stashed away in a closet, where it remains intermingled with countless impulsively purchased, “might-wear-it-someday” garments. Thanks to Angel Gowns of South Bay, women can donate their oncetreasured dresses to families grieving the loss of a child. It’s a bitter reality as, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 23,000 infants died in 2015, and the need to assist with parental healing is inarguable. The feelings of anguish that accompany infant loss are the antithesis to the euphoric months of careful planning for

the new arrival, crushed feelings that can easily translate to depths of despair. It’s then that Angel Gowns of the South Bay becomes the messenger of comfort and healing and allows the parents to respectfully honor their cherished creation. Clothing, jewelry designer, and artist, Gayle Fleury, experienced a friend dealing with the loss of their infant. It was precisely their grief that inspired her to turn her San Pedro studio into a sewing and design center, where members meet and transform donated wedding gowns into stunning burial gowns. Other members include Kathy Creighton, a former custom drapery designer, and long-time seamstresses Heidi Strohm and Kelly Smart, each weaving their special skills into each creation. “People in pain who’ve lost a child receive healing,” says artist Marlene Bauman. “Like the story of the Phoenix, a gown that’s in tatters or has been ignored for years, rises.”

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Those that donate are strongly encouraged to leave all aspects of the bridal gown intact and are welcome to drop them off on Saturdays at Fleury’s San Pedro studio (525 N. Harbor Blvd.). Gowns are hand-washed, never machine or dry-cleaned, as it’s entirely possible to remove even wine or other difficult stains. Following an evaluation session, members discuss how best to utilize, create, and apply the delicate finishing touches. Designs are inspired by the uniqueness of each wedding gown and, at no charge to the families, the Angel Gowns are sent to hospital chaplains within area hospitals that include the Providence Little Company of Mary Hospitals in San Pedro and Torrance, Kaiser South Bay, Harbor General, and Torrance Memorial. Angel Gowns of the South Bay represents immeasurably more than creating beautiful burial attire. To grieving parents, they represent all the stages of life that their child would have experienced. Monica “Mony” Brandelli, with her husband, Randy, were moved to become active in the organization after their own their life-altering experience. Monica recalls her experience, saying, “After many miscarriages, I finally became pregnant. It was truly one of the happiest days of my life. My dream came true. I’m going to be a mother with twins, a double blessing! I counted the days as my babies were growing. I started having pains at seven months and suspected they’d be premature, but hopeful they would survive. My babies were born alive, but soon after, my

husband told me otherwise. I felt I was in a horror movie. All the excitement of the anticipation of having twins just instantly disappeared.” While in their hospital room, the couple were introduced to Angel Gowns for their sons, Brandon Joseph and Brent Albert. “What struck me the most was the amazing kindness of strangers that cared enough to create [the gowns]. It brought much happiness to me at a very bleak time. These gowns make a major difference for a woman in deep emotional pain, and I encourage women to please donate their wedding dresses to greatly assist in easing a parent’s grief.” Debbie LaMont Scanlon, a San Pedro local, was married in 1990 and was energized to donate her gown as soon as she realized the group needed them. “I don’t sew but felt my gown could serve a worthwhile cause. It hangs in the back of my closet but has plenty of lace and usefulness. I plan on notifying the San Pedro Wednesday Club, that’s comprised of more than 400 women, plus my Facebook friends, of this vital cause.” Interested in volunteering? No experience or wizardry in sewing is required. Donated wedding gowns, notions, de-constructing the gowns, cutting patterns or seams are greatly needed and all necessary tools are supplied. Like all of us, your wedding gown isn’t getting younger. Donating it gives untold meaning and new beginnings after loss. spt For more info on Angel Gowns of South Bay, find them on Facebook.

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San Pedro Today - July 2018  

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