Service stitched with love: JustServe volunteer turns wedding gowns into tiny angel robes

Alabama Latter-day Saint Mary Helen Allred finds joy in using JustServe to continue a legacy of service

When Mary Helen Allred of the Gadsden Ward, in the Gadsden Alabama Stake, learned about in Relief Society one Sunday, she wanted to use it to find service projects around her that fit her time and talents.

“I got online and looked, and there were so many choices but that one just kind of spoke to me because I’ve sewn all my life since I was probably 12 years old,” Allred said. “I knew that it was something that I could do and something that I could do at home, on my time.”

A nonprofit called Angel Robes Alabama needed volunteers to turn donated wedding gowns into bereavement clothing and keepsake items for babies who are not going home from the hospital.

A white, embroidered small gown made for a stillborn baby out of a donated wedding dress.
An angel robe made from a donated wedding dress for a tiny baby in Gadsden, Alabama, by JustServe volunteer Mary Helen Allred in 2022. | Mary Helen Allred

The project brought back a memory for Allred.

“My mom told me about her older sister who was married, and her first baby died the day that it was born. She and her cousin, who were both 15 at the time, held that little baby in the back of the car, taking her to the cemetery, and I know it didn’t have a little white dress,” Allred said.

Allred contacted the head of the organization and learned that one quarter of all pregnancies end with the baby not going home from the hospital. She signed up to help, and after she received some donated wedding dresses and the patterns, she began to work.

“I wanted the dresses that I made to look the very best as I could and be a comfort to those who are losing their children,” Allred said. “When I got started, I just couldn’t stop.”

Allred worked with some of the other Relief Society sisters in her ward, and she would also take some of the wedding dresses when she visited her mother — who was 99 at the time the project began and turns 101 this year. Her mother helped carefully take apart the stitches in the dresses for Allred to wash, lay out, design, cut out and sew into new little infant robes, gowns and bonnets.

Allred would take a picture of each before delivering them to the organization and estimates she made around 300 in the last couple of years.

A while and lacy angel robe and bonnet made by Mary Helen Allred from a donated wedding dresses.
An angel robe and bonnet made by Mary Helen Allred for a JustServe service project in Gadsden, Alabama, in October 2022. The tiny gowns are made from donated wedding dresses for babies who do not go home from the hospital. | Mary Helen Allred
Embroidered pockets or handkerchiefs made from donated wedding dresses for tiny babies who do not live past birth.
Embroidered pockets or handkerchiefs made by Mary Helen Allred from donated wedding dresses as bereavement items for babies who do not live past birth. These were made in March 2023 for a JustServe project in Gadsden, Alabama. | Mary Helen Allred

Finding the JustServe project and serving in such a way was a blessing for Allred because it came when she didn’t have a calling in the Church for the first time in many years.

“I felt lost,” she admitted. “I felt like, you know, I wasn’t really needed. I thought, well, these people need me, I will jump into this. And the minute I started working on it, I thought this is what I’m supposed to do in this break between callings.”

After working on the project for a while, she was called into her stake Relief Society. Even though that was time-consuming, she still prioritized making the infant robes until the organization said they had enough.

“It gave me a sense of purpose when for a little while there, I felt like I didn’t have a purpose.”

Her parents gave her a legacy of service. Her mother served her entire life until it became too difficult due to her age. Her father served as a bishop in the Gadsden Ward for many years. After he retired, he knew he would not be able to help in ways like he used to, but he could write encouraging letters. When he died, Allred filled 22 binders with copies of those letters.

Ralph Allred is pictured in July 2010.
Ralph Allred is pictured in July 2010. His daughter Mary Helen Allred credits his legacy of service for teaching her how to look for ways to serve others using JustServe. Picture provided in February 2024. | Provided by Mary Helen Allred

The next generation is continuing that legacy of service. Allred said her son and daughter-in-law have five children, and while her daughter-in-law teaches art and coaches soccer, she also takes time to care for two little boys for a friend in need.

“What an example for her children,” Allred said. “This is what the Savior would do. She saw a need, and she did it. I’ve never heard her complain.”

About a year ago, Allred went to again with her 8-year-old grandson and found a project they could do together remotely. An organization was sending care packages to eastern Europe and needed volunteers to make and decorate appreciative cards.

“So we did 400 to 500 of those cards together and sent those off,” she said.

Louise Allred is pictured with her great-grandson. Isaac Allred in July 2023.
Louise Allred is pictured with her great-grandson. Isaac Allred in July 2023. Both of them have helped with JustServe projects to serve others. | Mary Helen Allred

Allred said anyone can serve — those who are homebound can find a remote service project to do and busy young parents can find a project they can do with their children.

“I just love the JustServe organization. There are always things you can do on JustServe,” she said.

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