Weymouth Minister Sews 100 Gowns for South Shore Health Colleagues

In March, Reverend Barbara Dingwall Mills, Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Weymouth, found herself stuck at home. It was a big change from her busy schedule.

In-person church services were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to restrictions at South Shore Hospital, she was unable to volunteer as a chaplain for the first time since her eldest granddaughter’s birth seven years ago. Her trips to Holliston to care for a granddaughter were also canceled. She was anxious to help, but she wasn’t sure how.

Then Vicki Niles, Lead Surgical Technician at South Shore Hospital’s Birthing Unit, told Reverend Mills that South Shore Health was in need of isolation gowns as the health system prepared to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients. 

This spring, health systems across the United States struggled to find enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for frontline workers. Leaving nothing to chance, South Shore Health called on the community for donations of gowns. Ideally, they’d be manufactured, medical-grade gowns. But if the worst came to pass, appropriate fabric gowns would be used.

Reverend Mills set herself an ambitious goal: She would make 100 gowns. She got the pattern from Jessica Symonds, Senior Director of the South Shore Health Foundation, and started sewing.

“What in God’s name have I set out for myself?” Reverend Mills recalls thinking as she got started. But this week, Mills finished her 95th gown.

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Reverend Barbara Dingwall Mills at her sewing machine

While Reverend Mills was the only one behind the sewing machine, she certainly wasn’t tackling the project alone. Friends, family, and churchgoers donated fabric and other materials to her cause. Others sent along checks so Reverend Mills could purchase materials. 

“In a really dark time in mid-March, it was very nice to see that people cared,” Reverend Mills says. “I couldn’t have done it without people’s help. That is absolutely for sure.”

Reverend Mills estimates that the donations of cash and materials covered the cost to make about 50 of her 100 gowns. The rest, she’s purchased herself. Mills estimates that each gown takes about three hours to construct, and requires about $25 worth of materials. 

“We are in awe of Reverend Mills for her months of hard work and giving spirit,” Symonds says. “The response the entire South Shore community was nothing short of overwhelming. It means the world to our staff to know these gowns are ready if we need them.”

Thanks to the tireless efforts of South Shore Health’s supply chain colleagues, the health system has not had to use any homemade gowns. But all of them have been set aside to be used in the event of a second wave of COVID-19 cases, or any future disruptions to the supply chain.

If they are used, or colleagues will know which ones were made by Reverend Mills, as she sewed a decorative button onto each of her creations.

“If I ever see somebody in one of these, and if there’s a button on it, in my mind, I’ll know I made that one,” she says.

As Reverend Mills’ project comes to a close, she reflects on what she’s learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has really brought home for me that we really are in this together. I think that’s our purpose here, on earth. To do something good, hopefully every day.”


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