Many women’s groups sew quilts for Lutheran World Relief or assemble school kits and hygiene kits for neighbors in time of need. Some women in Pennsylvania are putting together kits for a local hospital—but they’re not what you’d think.
These kits are for women who have gone through medical exams after sexual assault. The “lily bags” include sports bras, underpants, socks and prayer squares, said Pat Bellingham, president of the Northwestern Pennsylvania synodical women’s organization (SWO) and organizer of the Lily Project.
“Often [a victim’s] clothing is used for evidence or is not in condition to be worn again,” said Pat, a member of Luther Memorial in downtown Erie. “In the bag, we also have a knitted prayer square with a message of hope and strength.”
On the outside of each bag, Pat says, the group attaches stickers with the Women of the ELCA logo and another message: “You don’t know how strong you are until strong is all there is left to be.”
“We used the lily for our bags because it stands for strength, beauty and vitality,” she said. And because it’s the Women of the ELCA logo.
“You don’t know how strong you are until strong is all there is left to be.”
Pat said the women in Northwestern Pennsylvania’s Conference 1, made up of 14 ELCA congregations, collect undergarments in sizes small to 2XL.
“We organize the bags by size in tubs with our contact information, so when the hospital (St. Vincent’s in Erie, Penn.) runs out of bags in a particular size, they can contact us.”
The Lily Project also donates other clothing to the hospital, “like loose athletic pants and T-shirts, in case the women require more,” she said.
St. Vincent’s Hospital reports four to eight rape exams a month, Pat said. The Lily Project delivered 16 lily bags and clothing to the hospital, which they chose out of three in the area “because someone answered the phone.”
“When I talked to someone at St. Vincent’s, she said, ‘You have no idea how bad we need this.’
“So far, our women in Conference 1 are anxious to continue this mission,” Pat said. “And I have received calls from other churches in the Erie area who have heard about our project and would like to participate also.
“Nothing like assault has ever happened to me,” she said. “And when I heard about the kits (from another SWO president), it just touched me. I thought, we can do this.”
West-Virginia Maryland SWO
Pat said she got the idea for the project last fall on an annual conference call with the churchwide organization and other Region 8 presidents. Beverly McDonald, president of the West Virginia-Western Maryland SWO, said their synod was making similar kits.Beverly said the idea came from a group in West Virginia fighting human trafficking. And at the 2011 Triennial Gathering in Spokane, Wash., participants assembled kits that included sweatshirts and sweatpants as a part of the servant events.
Beverly works with women’s shelters that store the “hospital bags” the synodical organization provides.
“We make a bag containing a sports bra, panties, T-shirt and jogging pants,” Beverly said. “We also have our S.T.U.F.F (sheets, towels, utensils for families) Closet. These items are given when ladies leave the shelter.”
Churches with no shelters in their areas bring Beverly donations, she said. And a woman in her congregation, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran, Martinsburg, W.V., provides “very nice overnight bags” for the hospital kits.
“I cannot begin to explain the joy that I receive in delivering these items,” Beverly said.
Terri Lackey is director for communication for Women of the ELCA.
Photo: From left: Mary Jane Sinicki, Norma Jean Freshener, the Rev. Kristen Paulson and Pat Bellingham delivering items for lily bags at Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church in Erie, Pa.