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Sewing blessings

Every Good Gift sells crafts while aiming to teach young mothers job skills, responsibility, and Bible lessons

Houssei Bah Hudson Marsh

Sewing blessings
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One Wednesday in July, Jill Page chatted with three other women in the stuffy craft room of a church outside Philadelphia. Each woman wore a cloth mask and sat by herself at a table with a sewing machine and box of supplies. Over the whir of the machines and an electric fan, they talked about Houssei Bah’s plans to get married later that month and Cassandra Gruszka’s new job at UPS. Cassandra’s first shift was that night, and she was nervous. Page encouraged her with a Bible verse—Isaiah 26:3—and added, “Set your mind on God, and He will give you His peace.”

Page started Every Good Gift, a job training program for young moms, in 2015 after almost two decades in pro-life ministry. She has seen the women in the program build friendships, grow spiritually, and move on to full-time jobs and independent housing. But running the ministry almost single-handedly is draining, and knowing how best to help the women, who may lack education or life skills, takes patience and wisdom.

Every Good Gift makes and sells gift baskets, mug cozies, face masks, and other items. Typically, four women work from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. On Mondays they have Bible study, and on Thursdays workshops—though currently due to the pandemic, Bible studies and workshops occur on Mondays via Zoom. The women sit at tables in the host church’s craft room and talk as they assemble products. Volunteers provide child care in a room across the hall. At the end of the work shift, everyone has lunch. The workshops focus on parenting and job skills, and Page brings in local pastors or church volunteers to lead Bible studies.

Employees, mostly single moms, come from all backgrounds: One was in foster care, a few lived in a shelter, and some have supportive families. Cassandra, 26, has two children, ages 5 and 2. She found Every Good Gift a couple of years ago through a Facebook group for moms. “I like it a lot,” she said. “Everyone is very helpful and friendly. You don’t get that at a lot of places. And the support is there.” She and her children live with her parents, and her daughter’s father helps with raising the children. Cassandra grew up going to church occasionally but said through the Bible studies at Every Good Gift she has grown closer to God. Now she attends church with a friend.

Cassandra Gruszka

Cassandra Gruszka Charissa Koh

Pastor Alonzo Johnson is a regular Bible study teacher. He grew up in a housing project in north Philadelphia, and when he heard about Page’s vision for Every Good Gift, he asked how he could help. Page asked him to join the board, and he did, though he prefers teaching the Bible studies over sitting in board meetings. “I do believe that Every Good Gift is addressing an issue that’s been long-standing, especially with minority moms,” he said. “How to do that in a way that doesn’t enable but truly helps … is a learning curve for all of us.”

Page tries to hold the women to workplace standards of communication and punctuality. Between 7:30 and 8 a.m., each must text Page to confirm she is coming and bringing her children. If she doesn’t, Page demotes her to working as a substitute for a time. Sometimes she explains to the woman that such behavior would get her fired at a normal job, but that she gets another chance. Knowing when to show grace and when to enforce standards is hard, Page said, especially when women need the money. But without the challenge, they might not develop the skills to work full time and support their children when they leave.

So far, about 50 women have worked at Every Good Gift. Page works on a salary for 50 hours a week, coordinating volunteers and employees, keeping track of supplies, and writing grants. “If I had known how hard it would be, I wouldn’t have done it,” Page said. “And there are blessings all along the way through the challenges.”

—This story has been corrected to reflect that executive director Jill Page receives a salary from Every Good Gift.

Charissa Koh

Charissa is a WORLD reporter who often writes about poverty-fighting and criminal justice. She resides with her family in Atlanta.



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