Not many high school juniors spend their free time sewing these days, but thanks to Libby Howard's love of fashion design, making clothes and a commitment to "give back" to the community, she and her Brothers high tech sewing machine are making a difference for children in need.
She started sewing a year ago, using her grandmother's old Singer sewing machine, and quickly learned the skills to re-stitch and sew old clothes she found at Goodwill and in friends' attics, turning them into contemporary outfits that she started selling. Cold weather flannel pajamas that she made from new materials were a hit.
But she wanted to do more, especially for children. Donated blankets, although always needed, were in abundance. What about other bedding needs, she asked, and the idea of decorative pillowcases came to mind. Last November, she made 25 pillowcases, buying holiday patterns at Joanne's Fabrics, and donated them to young patients who were spending the holidays at Children's Hospital Oakland. She said it was a good way to give these children a little piece of home, something to comfort them.
Recently, she gave customized pillowcases to about 60 campers and their siblings at the Taylor Family Foundation's Jack's Camp for kids with brain tumors. Some spent 20 minutes going through the stack of colorful pillowcases before choosing one or two. These are children who are facing horrendous challenges, Libby says, and yet they were as excited and smiling as others over the prospect of sleeping that night on a very special pillow made just for them.
She'll do it again over the last three weekend days of this month for children at Camp Hope, also held at the Taylor Family Foundation's camp outside Livermore. These are children being given special care who have recently lost a mother, father, sibling or close relative and need comfort as they handle their losses. Libby has already made 60 pillowcases for the event, with 40 more to make before she personally delivers each one.
Libby admits that being a seamstress and sewing clothes and pillowcases seems like long lost skills. Her colleagues at Amador Valley High School say she's championing "a dying line." Libby finds the work enjoyable, a true hobby, almost an art, where there's still a lot of value and appreciation. She's a member of Amador's Fashion Cub, which has regular meetings and was disappointed when the faculty tried to offer a fashion and fabrics class but gave up the effort when too few signed up.
Sewing for a profit, although her sales are still slow, provides the money Libby uses to buy the fabric. She finds the venture meaningful in that she continues to build her skills in designing, sewing and marketing while also fulfilling her own interests in helping others, especially children.
She remembers one young girl at Jack's Camp who had lost much of her hair as she battled brain cancer. "She had the sweetest smile, the most loving attitude and was so gracious that I would make a pillowcase for her," Libby said. "I know she was like many of the kids I talked to who need our compassion and help."
Libby's family joins her in her efforts. Her mother Jenny is the program manager for the Sentinels of Freedom organization in San Ramon, and helps promote her daughter's business and donation opportunities. Her father Butch, an engineer at Northrop Grumman in Sunnyvale, uses his business expertise in helping to track Libby's expenses, keep sales records and utilize good accounting methods. Her sister Delaney is a freshman at Oregon State University, where she promotes Libby's business among her college classmates and more directly while she's home for spring break. As skilled and determined as Libby is in both business and philanthropy, we're likely to see the results of her good work in Pleasanton and beyond in the years ahead.
For more information, sign on to Libby Howard's "The Pillowcase Project" at www.facebook.com/ThePillowcaseProject.