This Group Makes a Difference, One Stitch at a Time

A simple sewing machine has the power to help others.

Set of hand drawn sewing machines

(AM_art /

Sewing can be fun, creative, and even therapeutic. But have you ever thought that a sewing machine can also mean the world to many people around the globe that use it as their main source of sustenance? 

When Margaret Jankowski discovered this, she decided to do something to help. She started to provide the sought-after tools to those in need and founded The Sewing Machine Project, an organization that collects donated used machines and redistributes them across her own local community in Madison, Wisconsin and around the world.

The project has already shipped 3,350 machines to help women in need in remote places like Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Guam, and Kosovo. But it also aims to help those in destinations much closer to home like Detroit, Mississippi, and New Orleans, where their contribution is very much needed as well according to The Christian Science Monitor, a nonprofit news organization.

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How did everything start? In 2004, when a tsunami hit Sri Lanka, Margaret was deeply touched by the story of a particular woman. After the village she lived in was destroyed by the natural phenomenon, she lost everything, including her sewing machine, her route to future earnings. 

This story inspired Margaret to collect used sewing machines and send them to Sri Lanka. After attending a local news program where she presented her idea, she started receiving scores of  sewing machines, The Christian Science Monitor details. She managed to raise funds for shipping and voltage converters and she even included some other essential supplies such as fabric and medical provisions in her deliveries. 

The Sewing Machine Project covers a basic yet essential need of many impoverished people around the world. For them, sewing can be a livelihood and  “a tool for survival” as Ms. Jankowski explains in an interview for TV channel, PBS Wisconsin. Whether in a factory or at home, a sewing machine can be the door to brighter financial opportunities. 

A sewing machine can also enable many to preserve their cultural identity. Due to Hurricane Katrina that took place in 2005, The Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans — a community that wears elaborate embellished suits for Mardi Gras — lost many of its sewing machines. Since then, the non-profit organization has distributed hundreds of machines among the creators of the costumes, helping them maintain their income as well as their tradition.

What’s more, being able to create something that can be sold as a product, is also very empowering and a source of pride for many vulnerable people including immigrants and refugees, Gigi Salka, director of the B.O.O.S.T. training program at Zaman International, a nonprofit that serves poor and marginalized women and children in the Detroit area, explained to The Christian Science Monitor.

For Jankowski sewing machines are extremely important to people and “it’s wonderful when people know that their machine will have another chapter and that it will go to help somebody else” she told PBS Wisconsin. 

So if you are a lover of the old craft of sewing, and you're thinking about replacing your old sewing machine, you might want to give it away to those in need. Because as the saying goes, one person's trash is another person's treasure. 

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