Woman finds comfort in sewing for others

MIDDLEBURY — Christmas might be over, but one of Santa’s helpers continues to work away in relative anonymity.
Her name is Doreen Gilmore and her workshop is her small apartment in The Meadows elderly housing complex in Middlebury. There, she has spent many days sewing clothes and blankets for sick and impoverished kids in Vermont and throughout the world.
Gilmore, 76, developed an interest in sewing as a student in New Haven’s Beeman Academy during the 1950s. Her considerable skills with needles and fabric would serve her well on the home front outfitting six children, as well as in the private sector. She worked five years for Van Raalte, a Middlebury-based manufacturer of women’s pajamas, nightgowns and undergarments.
Her eclectic career would include stints at Kennedy Brothers, Helen Porter Nursing Home and the Addison Independent circulation department. She moved into The Meadows around 14 years ago. There, she likes to read, paint-by-numbers, help out some of her elderly neighbors, watch a little television and make crafts.
Her small apartment is very tidy, but busy with her favorite things and the fruits of her labors of love.
Looking upon her constantly are her many relatives captured in rows of pictures that line her walls. Also keeping her company are the many stuffed animals and dolls she has lovingly adorned with meticulously crocheted outfits.
Though she has to stay connected to an oxygen tank due to respiratory issues, she goes wherever she wants, when she wants. Gilmore takes the portable oxygen tank to destinations ranging from the supermarket to the Middlebury Legion, where she is an active member.
“When I went on oxygen nine years ago, I decided it wasn’t going to keep me down, and it hasn’t,” Gilmore said. “If I want to go somewhere, I go.”
And while Gilmore would seem to be a candidate to receive a lot of help, she spends a lot of time helping others.
Monday saw her chatting with a phone company representative trying to get one of her neighbor’s monthly charge lowered. She has regularly helped less able-bodied folks cook and run errands.
“Whenever I cook, I always make more than I can eat, so instead of throwing it out, I take it down to a couple of people,” Gilmore said.
It was last year that Gilmore went global with her service to others.
It started one day when her daughter, Patricia Hayes, dropped off several charitable sewing projects she didn’t have time to finish for the organization “Mothers Without Borders (MWB),” a group that helps orphans in Third World countries. MWB’s activities include sew-a-thons to make clothing for disadvantaged children.
“(Patricia) had a bunch of T-shirt dresses she hadn’t gotten done … so she brought them over and asked if I would do them,” Gilmore recalled.
She agreed, and was rewarded with a hearty thanks — and another order.
“They brought me 75 more,” Gilmore said with a chuckle.
She didn’t mind the work — in fact, she enjoyed it so much that she offered her services to MWB again this year. The organization feeds Gilmore the fabric, which she assembles, hems and sews into lightweight, sturdy dresses that are distributed to little girls across the globe. She will likely never meet any of the children who wear her wares, but she knows her efforts will be appreciated.
“They need it,” she said of the recipients of dresses. “You see them on TV, with nothing on.”
She made 132 T-shirt dresses during the past year, along with a bunch of fleece blankets for babies at Fletcher Allen Health Care. As if that weren’t enough, Gilmore whipped up 85 gift bags for the Addison County Community Christmas Day Dinner last month.
If you ask Gilmore, she doesn’t consider the various projects to be work, but rather some diverting tasks she can mix in freely with her other daily activities. There’s something comforting about soft fabric and the hum of a sewing machine.
“I look at it this way,” Gilmore said. “It gives me something to do; it keeps me busy.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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