Manitoba has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, with Statistics Canada reporting that there were seven deaths for every 1,000 live births back in 2017.
Knowing that these rates are particularly high in the north, Manitoba Angel Dresses spokesperson Diane Monkman said her group is looking to expand operations into Thompson so that grieving families can access their services more directly.
“We provide burial gowns for infants that are lost at birth or early in pregnancy,” she told the Thompson Citizen April 12. “The reason being is there is no such service in retail where people can go and purchase something for their baby.”
According to the group’s website, every one of their products is sewn from donated bridal gowns by hand and available for free upon request.
While Manitoba Angel Dresses has been shipping products to funeral homes and hospitals across the province since its founding in 2014, Monkman said they are looking for a volunteer to spearhead production and distribution in Thompson.
“They don’t need to sew, but they have to be very community-minded and have some time on their hands,” she said. “They need to gather knitters, seamstresses, crafters, transportation … there’s all kinds of little jobs to be done once the group has formed.”
This northern push is part of the newly re-formed Manitoba Angel Dresses, which started operating again in early 2018 after a two-year hiatus.
Even though the group is trying to expand its reach and offer new products to the public, including a keepsake for every affected family, Monkman said the original vision of founder Becky Panter is still intact.
“It was going good in the States but [Becky] brought it to Canada because she had lost an infant and she only had a blanket to wrap it in,” said Monkman. “She didn’t sew, but she found people to sew and that got the ball rolling.”
After establishing her original group in Saskatchewan, Becky’s movement caught the public’s attention and quickly spread across the country, resulting in similar volunteer-run chapters being set up from British Columbia all the way to the Maritimes (including Manitoba).
While Monkman admits that the concept behind Manitoba Angel Dresses can sound morbid on the surface, she said the end result really does help these mourning families get through an extremely difficult time in their lives.
“Everyone has been touched by an infant loss, either personally or through friends and family, and they’ve seen the devastation,” she said. “And if there is something to ease that a little bit, I think people will take it to heart.”
Any Thompson resident interested in spearheading the organization’s local operations in the north can contact Monkman directly at email@example.com.