KANSAS CITY, Mo. - If you frequent garage sales around town, you may have run into John Wright. Address list in hand, the 81- year-old Kansas City grandfather plots out his stops in advance of walking up homeowners’ driveways filled with treasures they’re hoping to sell.
John has been going to garage sales for a decade. Upon his arrival, it doesn’t take long for him to locate the homeowner to ask one simple question: "Do you have any wedding dresses?"
“I went to a garage sale in Belton one day,” John explained to 41 Action News. “I was talking to the lady and I showed her a little flyer and she said, 'Stand right there, don’t move.'"
The woman went inside her house and brought out an old, used wedding dress. It was exactly what John was seeking.
“She was married to the man for 18 years and it turned out he wasn’t a very nice fella,” John said. “She said she can’t stand to look at the wedding dress, so she couldn’t think of a better use to put the dress to than make something meaningful.”
Along with collecting coffee mugs and toys he donates to people in need, John gathers wedding gowns to give to his wife, Diane. She then washes them, cuts them apart, and sews them into tiny gowns.
Delicate gowns that are about to serve a new purpose as burial gowns for deceased newborns.
“I’ve probably gotten 15 out of one dress,” Diane said. “But most of the time it's closer to eight and I try to do the four different sizes.”
Diane makes various different sizes to fit babies at various stages of gestation. She also makes a small little pocket, or wrap, with ties for the newborns that are too small to wear clothes.
“There’s always a variety. And then after I do some then I go back and any little scrap I have left will take whatever pattern I have and see what will fit and make that particular size."
Diane donates gowns she makes to area hospitals, like Saint Luke’s East. Nurses then give them to parents whose newborn babies did not survive.
“I’ve had a miscarriage and we’ve lost a child so I understand that grief,” Diane told 41 Action News with tears welling up in her eyes.
Diane and John also revealed they recently lost a son who drowned during a military exercise.
Angelee True is a nurse in the labor and delivery unit at St. Luke’s East Hospital in Lee’s Summit, Mo.
“Not all families have a happy experience when they come here. We do have families that lose babies due to miscarriage or still birth or at all different stages of gestation,” Angelee explained.
“We have been trained to take care of those families and it's always difficult,” Angelee said while standing in an empty patient room. “It’s never easy by any means.”
“We get patients who come in for an induction or just a regular appointment who say they haven’t felt the baby move as much as normal and the baby has passed and it's a total shock to them."
It’s a shock that's a bit less painful for parents thanks to people like John and Diane.
“The parents would have to go buy something,” Diane said. “I can’t imagine how hard that would be to go and buy a burial gown.”
John added, “When I look at them I just … my throat closes up. I get so emotional about it.”
Diane says a prayer over every gown. She’s never met the recipients of her gowns or Angelee, but hospital staff has witnessed the parents’ overwhelming response.
“What they’re doing is extremely important and what they’re doing means a lot more than what they can ever know,” Angelee said.
“If you have faith in God and faith in helping other people, then that’s what we’re here for,” John added while sitting in his living room.
“I’m 81 years old. I don’t know how much time I have left, but I’d like for it to have meaning.”
If you have a wedding dress you’d like to donate to John and Diane Wright, send it to Grandview United Methodist Church, 12613 Grandview Road in Grandview, Mo.
You can also contact the volunteer coordinator at Saint Luke’s East Hospital at 816-347-8532.