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Marengo UMC Gathering Place welcomes community

Offers sewing lessons, books, food
Marengo UMC Gathering Place welcomes community
Marengo UMC Gathering Place welcomes community
Martha McGwin stocks a free food pantry box at the Gathering Place, a community outreach of Marengo United Methodist Church, located on S.R. 66. Next to the pantry box is a Little Free Library. Anyone is encouraged to stop and choose a book to take home. Photo by Stephanie Taylor Ferriell
By Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer, [email protected]

Martha McGwin learned to sew on her mother’s sewing machine when she was just 6 or 7 years old. She remembers making dolls and other items. She continued sewing as an adult, a skill she passed on to her own children.

However, as the years passed by, she eventually got away from the craft. A couple of years ago she passed by a yard sale in New Salisbury, noticing a large amount of fabric. She convinced her husband, Marston, to stop.

“My husband said, ‘What are you going to do with it?’” McGwin recalled. “I didn’t know, but I felt I should get it.”

They loaded the fabric — so much it nearly filled the car — and the seeds of a new sewing venture were planted, although McGwin didn’t realize it at the time.

About that same time, McGwin started finding sewing machines for sale, many of them listed on Facebook Marketplace, and nearly all of them reasonably priced. She acquired several, “one after another,” she recalled. Some weren’t functional, but she used parts from them to repair other machines.

When the Boys and Girls Club started using the basement of the church she attends, Marengo United Methodist, for after-school care, much like a sewing project, it all began to come together. With the church’s blessing, McGwin started offering sewing lessons to children attending BGC. Church members and others donated more fabric, and she found more sewing machines.

Sewing is a skill many young people today don’t ever have the opportunity to learn. Maybe that’s why it proved so intriguing to the youngsters, especially the boys, she said.

“I want them to have a skill that most people won’t have anymore,” explained McGwin. “Kids grow up and never learn how to fix things. I want them to be able to use a needle to sew on a button or fix a seam.”

There’s a deeper reason behind this seamstress’ devotion to the free lessons she continues to offer, now at the house that used to be the church parsonage, located in Marengo along S.R. 66.

Not every child shines at sports or activities offered through school, said Mc-Gwin.

“Basketball may not be an option for them; soccer may not either,” she said. “All the things that kids may learn that give them a chance to feel like they have something special may not be an option. Sewing may be an option for them.”

McGwin begins lessons with new students by explaining the parts of a sewing machine and demonstrating how to prepare it, then allows each child to repeat the steps on his/her own. She lets the child guide the lesson. Typically, she begins by helping each make a small beanbag; a simple project that can be quickly completed.

She encourages each child to choose what they’d like to make — a drawstring bag, a stuffed kitten, a pair of shorts — knowing the more input the child has the more likely he or she is to maintain interest.

She’s had children ask for help in repairing a hole in a jacket or hemming a pair of pants. She gladly offers assistance.

McGwin enjoys seeing participants not only learn a useful skill they can carry with them throughout their lives, but, even more importantly, develop self-confidence and pride.

“When you have a skill that not everybody does, it makes you feel like you have worth,” she said. “We are an outreach to the community, and we want to be a blessing to the community.”

In that vein, the Gathering Place has been used for Bible studies, meetings and cooking events, such as “Love and Lasagna” in February and “Jumping Jambalya” in March. The church has also shown movies and is exploring other ways to make the space useful to the community at large.

“We’re taking the church to a wider audience,” said McGwin. “That’s the whole idea, to try to reach people in the community.”

The Gathering Place recently installed a Little Free Library and a food pantry cabinet in front of the building. Anyone is encouraged to stop and help themselves to a free book and any food items they may need. The community is also invited to leave donations.

McGwin said she would be thrilled if there are community members interested in sewing who would like to volunteer. She typically offers lessons the first three Saturdays of each month from 10 a.m. to noon. Everyone is welcome.

When she thinks back to that rainy afternoon when she spotted all that fabric at a yard sale, McGwin is amazed at what’s transpired.

“It’s been an amazing journey that I never expected to have, just from buying that fabric,” she said.