Meet Katherine and the Simpson Shelter Mending Group

Posted on January 14th, 2016

Katherine Werner was first introduced to the Simpson shelter about ten years ago when she organized a group of her coworkers at the Twin Cities United Way to visit some of the organizations the agency funded. Shortly after visiting the shelter Katherine was inspired to gather a group of coworkers to cook dinner once a month for the women at Simpson’s women’s shelter which, at the time, was housed at another South Minneapolis location.

“After we finished serving dinner, we would sit down and eat together and talk,” says Katherine. “I learned many of the women at the shelter were employed and got up extra early to take multiple buses to their jobs. They read interesting books and were engaged with the world. It really impacted me and raised my awareness about who the homeless are.”

After leaving the United Way, Katherine became an advocate at a drop-in day center in St. Paul that serves people experiencing homelessness. “Working there was a giant step forward in my understanding of homelessness,” she says. “I learned how important day-to-day things are, such as having a place to store your stuff, pick up your mail, or do laundry or take a shower, things we often take for granted.”

Katherine had stayed connected with Simpson Housing through Facebook and decided she wanted to get involved again. She organized a small group of friends to visit the shelter once a month to do some sewing and mending for guests. “Although I don’t sew I know a lot of people who do,” says Katherine with a smile. They bring their sewing kits and tools and set up a little shop and set to work patching up jackets, shirts, pants, gloves, and other clothing items. “We see people struggling with things like a missing button, or a broken zipper, which isn’t a big deal in July but in the winter it’s a big problem,” Katherine says.

Katherine drops by Simpson a few days before the monthly mending session and posts handmade flyers to let guests know when the mending group will be there. It gives people a chance to gather their things. “When we arrive, there’s a line of people waiting for us,” says Katherine.

The volunteers provide their own mending supplies. “We have two sewing machines,” says Katherine, “but we would love a third one.” The group works from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and will repair anywhere from 10-20 items during that time. They volunteer on the second Sunday of the month from September through May and then take a rest during the summer, when there’s less need.

Katherine is thankful for the opportunity to provide this service to Simpson’s guests. “This work feeds our souls,” she says. “We’re able to do something we’re good at and we all leave in such a good mood because we know the people we help are so grateful and so happy. We wouldn’t have these experiences if it weren’t for Simpson.”

If you would like to learn more about the Simpson Shelter Mending Group, please contact Katherine at werner_2177@msn.com or  visit their Facebook page, Simpson Shelter Mending Group.   Volunteers must fill out a volunteer application and have basic sewing skills.

“We’ve been doing this for three years now and have built a great team of volunteers,” says Katherine.

MEET THE MENDERS

Katrina works at the Wedge and is a self-published zine artist. A friend told her about the Simpson Mending Group. Katherine says Katrina can work magic with a sewing machine and can fix just about any zipper.

April works in an alterations shop and also designs and makes wedding dresses. She’s very creative and thoughtful about making a repair, says Katherine. April learned how to sew at her grandma’s knee when she was four.

Joan has been involved with several volunteer groups at Simpson. She is a master knitter and is skilled at hand work especially buttons—in fact, she is a virtual button-whisperer. She also has a habit of ironing what’s she’s finished which really pleases the shelter’s guests.

Lynn is a newbie to the group. He’s married to Joan and decided to come along and operate one of the sewing machines. Lynn is a retired mechanical engineer and also recently retired, at the age of 84, from driving a hearse for 15 years.

Faye is semi-retired. She is both a rock and very funny says Katherine. She knows how to roll with the punches in the midst of chaos and is a “queen on the sewing machine.” She also likes to iron things before returning them to the guest and, in fact, travels with a sleeve board.

Seth is otherwise known as “Dr. Backpack.” He is a puppet artist and is one of those “rough and ready” repair people. There’s no backpack he can’t give new life to.

Alicia learned about the group from Seth. She works at the Guthrie’s costume rental program and is accustomed to making repairs and alterations. Alicia is a master both with the needle and the machine and says a little mending goes a long way toward keeping something serviceable.

Amy is a puppet artist. Many of her skills come from fixing things for family members and theater people. She recently adopted a young child and is taking a sabbatical from the group right now.

Sheryl is very engaging and often can be found having a marvelous conversation with a guest. She is a skilled seamstress and carries a wooden darning egg in her sewing kit which belonged to her grandmother.

Lucinda is a puppeteer artist, and a middle child of nine. She can do everything. Katherine says she’s an old soul, very gentle, and very calming.

Cathy drives all the way from Eagan and donated a sewing machine to the group’s effort. Although she’s retired, she has a very busy family life and joins in when she can.

Katherine manages the day-to-day details like coordinating volunteers and getting supplies. She also picks up the slack with hand stitching, and records the group’s volunteer hours. “And I bring chocolate. I’m in trouble if I don’t bring chocolate for the group,” she says.

 

Sew-glove Buttons-cropSewing with client