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As “our Dorcas’ became known, it was a decided success. Subscriptions increased, and our working parties were better attended. The last annual report gave £40 as the amount of the year's receipts; 159 as the number of new garments given away; and 40 as the average attendance. Yet, though the original matters of dispute had been so far amicably settled, and “our Dorcas’ grew and prospered, new difficulties were, of course, constantly arising. That of ‘patterns’ seemed a never-ending one. Everyone had some favourite way of cutting out this or that garment, and it was very difficult to steer clear of over-plainness—ugliness, in fact—of shape on the one hand, or over-prettiness, useless prettiness, on the other. As a rule, in making clothes for the poor, the simplest patterns are the best. They will prefer things made as they have been accustomed to wear them, with such trifling modifications or improvements as will add to their real comfort. The ladies who volunteered to “cut out, generally met for that purpose on two or three mornings between the meetings, so as to have plenty of work ready. But the most difficult thing to get was not advice, or money, or materials, but good work. Few young ladies of the present day can sew or hem as well as the girls in our village schools. Oh the work that may sometimes be seen at a Dorcas meeting ! And even if they can work neatly, many have no notion of putting the various pieces of calico together; and not liking to show their ignorance of where this band should go, or how this sleeve should be put in, concoct garments of most curious shapes; it must have puzzled them, it certainly did others, to know what they were meant for. The worst of it was that it took up no small portion of the time of the more experienced to rectify these mistakes. One lady, whose daughter had learnt Latin, and chemistry, and sciences innumerable, but never needlework, brought her to the Dorcas for the express purpose of learning it. She found it, I believe, a very pleasant school; but, alas for the first few articles she undertook 1 To many it never occurred that their work would be held up as a model in the poor homes for which it was destined, and that if we wished to induce neater habits among them, it behoved us to set an example of first-rate needlework; with such a purpose in view, it could scarcely be too good. Time, however, helped us even in this matter. The work was really loved for the sake of its object, and by patience and painstaking, the style of doing it wonderfully improved ; so that, if “our Dorcas’ did nothing else, it certainly made some of our young people better fitted for their future duties as wives and mothers. Besides the articles of clothing that were given, there were several ‘bags” containing baby linen, &c., which were lent for five weeks to poor women who needed them. By Rule W., ‘each subscriber of five shillings and upwards was entitled to a nomination for a bag of linen.” If returned in good condition, a shilling was given to the mother, and a few articles of clothing taken from the bag for the child, these being at once replaced by new ones, so that the contents of the bags were always kept in good preservation. This loan of baby linen was received by many with great thankfulness, and much distress and suffering were prevented by it. Often our friends brought to the meeting half-worn clothes or shoes, &c., and for these, no less than for the newly made ones, we found plenty of applicants. In fact, under some circumstances, it was better to give old things than new. Where the father (as in too many cases) spent his earnings in drink, the mother might be tempted to pledge a new garment for the sake of feeding her children—and who could blame her ? but as the first object of the Dorcas was to clothe, a half-worn frock or flannel would be more likely to serve for this purpose. But whilst doing its utmost to clothe the poor, “our Dorcas’ did not stop there ; relief of various kinds went with the clothing— bread tickets, coal and soup tickets; in some instances money, as the ladies who went about visiting the poor in their homes thought best. One Christmas, a hundred and twenty large plum puddings were made, boiled, and given away. Last year our Dorcas ladies went still further, and among them collected money enough to supply Christmas dinners for two hundred families. The amount collected was nearly £37; tickets valued at five shillings were given to one hundred families, and smaller families, to the same number, were supplied with half crown ones. The goods were distributed the day before Christmas at three o'cloc They were placed (already divided into the several portions) on three long tables in the schoolroom. As the owners of the tickets came in, their things were given to them with a few kind seasonable words. The five shilling tickets entitled them to four pounds of beef, a four-pound loaf, half a pound of plums, the same of currants, one quartern of flour, and a shilling; the smaller ticket to half the quantity. We were enabled to make our money go so far because various tradespeople had supplied the goods at cost price; they were all of the best quality. It was a truly Christmas sight to see the ticket-holders carrying away the materials for what was to them a feast for the morrow ; one poor woman afterwards, in tears, declared she had never had such a dinner since she had been married. A ragged school in our immediate neighbourhood also came in for a share of Dorcas help. Many of the ragged urchins had partaken of the Christmas dinner before-mentioned, and this autumn, for the sake of bringing their mothers and fathers into nearer intercourse
with our members,' and to encourage the home missionary in his labours among them, a tea was projected, to which all the parents of the ragged school scholars were invited. About one hundred and twenty came, and an uncommonly merry tea meeting it was. As for the cake and bread-and-butter, though two or three dozen plates had been piled beforehand, there was no cutting it fast enough to keep pace with the demand; and to fill up the tea-cups as they were again and again (we are afraid to say how many times) handed up to be refilled, kept the presiding ladies fully occupied. You can't put in too much sugar, ma'am,' we heard one poor old lady say, as she complacently watched the replenishing of her cup for the sixth time, 'for I never gets such good strong tea as this at home.' And the countenances of all expressed the same satisfaction. After tea, hymns were sung, some kind advice in the form of speeches' was given by a few gentlemen-advice, we believe, far more likely to influence the hearers from the fact of its having been preceded by a hearty cheerful meal. More songs followed, and the meeting was closed with prayer. Of all the 'tea-meetings' innumerable which we have joined, this certainly seemed the pleasantest.
Our Dorcas,' did not, of course, hold the entire management of these things— far from it. Others, unconnected with our society, worked as actively; still, those of the Dorcas ladies who were most active in their own particular society, were always among the most forward in every good work, and thus it was that the Dorcas became intertwined with every benevolent plan that was originated by others connected with our church.
Many interesting cases' came under the notice of the committee, and received special assistance. One was a servant, who had to support a child of seven years old. She and her mother, who was also in service, paid a friend five shillings a week for the little girl's support, besides which they had to clothe her ; all this being as much as they could manage to do out of their wages, and when, from any misfortune, one or other was out of place for a time, it became a hard matter to pay the weekly five shillings. To make it worse, the friend who had charge of the child had a small family, and the poor little stranger, at seven years old, was little better than a slave among them. One lady tried to get her placed in one of the many orphan homes in London, where, at a cost of three-and-sixpence a Week, the child would be fed, clothed, and taught. This was done, and the five pounds entrance fee collected among the members of the Dorcas. Another woman (also encumbered with a child) who, whep begging in the streets, had first attracted the attention of one connected with us, was well clothed, and in time placed in a situation as cook in a country clergyman's family, where her wages were very good; her child, for a small sum per week, being taken charge of by a poor member of the church. Å dressmaker, very ill and in great poverty, with two delicate little girls to support, was placed in comfortable unfurnished rooms, which were plainly furnished for her, and, as her health improved, she was supplied with needlework. She was very clever at her business, and all hoped she would do well; but help had come too late, her constitution was broken down by previous suffering and privation, and she was forced to relinquish work. Hoping to benefit her, the friends sent her to the sea-side, procuring her all needful comfort. There she died, and some distant relatives then came forward and claimed the children. Two orphan sisters, flower makers, who between them could earn only three or four shillings a week, and were in great distress, were clothed, and placed in situations. One still keeps her’s, and is doing very well ; the other, through extreme weakness, was forced to give it up. Even the Dorcas tea is of benefit to some. The old tea leaves are the perquisite of one poor woman, who considers them a great boon, and the remainder of the bread-and-butter, often a large quantity, is given to other poor families. These instances of help rendered, have been mentioned not to show how much our society has done, or is doing—far from it, for the largest amount of work that any society can do is so insignificant compared with the work needed— but to indicate the way of proceeding, and to point out the cases which, as ‘a Dorcas, we considered ought to be relieved by us. Young girls first going into service, especially when leaving our Sabbath schools for that purpose, were always greatly assisted. Respectable clothing is a great advantage to a girl at that time. It is her first step out into the world, and the better she can start, the better position may she hope to attain. Many a bright young face have we seen lit up with gratitude and delight at the gift of two or three neat print dresses, ‘stuff' to make a warmer one, a new shawl, and such articles of under clothing as could be spared to her. They would enable her to take a better position among her fellow servants, would enhance her own self-respect, and prevent that bad habit of drawing wages in advance; or, worse still, procuring trashy, unsuitable goods on credit, which has been the first step to many a young girl's ruin. Sometimes, the poor women were asked to come to the schoolroom on our meeting day, to receive what was to be given them ; in cases where it was desirable to appeal for extra help, their presence was often of great assistance, as they were able to answer any necessary questions, and many were the tales of distress, touching though simple, that the ladies heard. Last Dorcas day, a poor woman came by appointment. She had a large family of little ones, and one evening “soaked in nearly all their clothing, preparatory to the next day's wash, leaving the things in a tub in the wash-house. During the night, some one climbed the wall, and stole them every one; some of the children were left without clothing at all. One little fellow had saved up the pence he occasionally earned, and bought himself a coat ; to his great unhappiness, it had been in the Tash tub that evening. Fortunately, this working day, a friend had brought with her some half-worn boys clothes, which were given to the mother; among them, we hoped, her boy might find something to console him for the loss of his coat.
But space warns us that we must bring these desultory remarks to a close. Yet after all that we have said of the good these societies may do, one of their most beneficial results must not be passed over. Not only has our Dorcas' clothed and fed many a fatherless child, making lighter the burden on the widow's heart—not only has it kept over the head of the dying the shelter of a roof, supplying them with such little things as the failing appetite could fancy, and soothing them with visits of love and sympathy—it has done something more. It has brought the rich and poor together; teaching them that beneath the silken dress of the one, and the torn, threadbare garment of the other, beats the same womanly heart ; that ladies are not all proud, but often gentle and sisterly, and sympathetic ; and that among the poorest are honest, high-principled women, entitled to all honour and respect. Not only this : it has drawn the members of the Dorcas together in a way that no other society could have done. People have sometimes said, "Why not work for the poor at home? There is as much charity in making clothes there as in going elsewhere to do it.' True; and many who cannot come work for us at home; many who do come, take home with them extra work to finish. But if there were no meetings, there would be a sad loss, not of work done, perbaps, but of the spirit of Christian fellowship which these meetings tend to cultivate. Many members of a large church have little opportunity of becoming acquainted with other members; when they come to the various services, there is probably too much of a crowd, or they are too timid to speak to strangers. But it is in the nature of the generality of womankind, when their bonnets and shawls are laid aside, and the needle is taken in hand, to be sociable and talkative. To several, our monthly ‘Dorcas' is the only opening they have for free and unrestrained conversation among those with whom they are united in church fellowship. And it can scarcely fail to bring about much Christian unity. When all are working for the same good purpose, all sympathizing in the same tale of woe, all hearts moved by the same womanly feelings of tenderness and pity, the holy influence of their employment will surely smooth ruffled tempers, soften unamiable faces almost into loveliness, make petty jealousies to be for the time forgotten, and unite all together by the strongest of all ties, that of being fellow-servants of the One Master.
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