Oldest 85, youngest 2: This upcycling project brings young and old together to raise funds for needy preschoolers

Salt&Light wishes all families a Happy Children's Day!

by Gracia Lee // September 23, 2021, 11:23 am

Great-grandmother-of-two Lucie Or, 79, finds it meaningful to be able to use her passion and skills in sewing to bless others. Photo by Edwin Soo.

Great-grandmother-of-two Lucie Or, 79, finds it meaningful to be able to use her passion and skills in sewing to bless others. Photo by Edwin Soo.

Great-grandmother-of-two Lucie Or, 79, can sit for hours at a time hunched over her sewing machine, her only company the punctuated whir of the needle bar.

“I enjoy it,” said Lucie, who taught herself to sew as an eight-year-old after watching her own grandmother stitching seams. “I started making my own (school) uniform when I was 11,” she added proudly.

Preschoolers under Presbyterian Preschool Services receiving the pencil cases that were sewn by the elderly.

In preparation for Children’s Day, she and five other elderly volunteers have been busy sewing together some 800 pencil cases and 500 water bottle holders from pre-loved denim jeans. 

The project, dubbed Jeans to Dreams, aims to raise funds for the Presbyterian Preschool Education Fund, which supports preschool children from needy families.

A sense of meaning and purpose

“We wanted to create items that the elderly could make for children,” said Debbie Seah, 59, a volunteer at Handiwork, a social enterprise that engages the elderly in handicraft. These handmade crafts and gifts are then sold online, with all the proceeds donated to charity.

The volunteers at Handiwork meet weekly at two senior activity centres by Presbyterian Community Centres to sew or make crafts. Photo by Edwin Soo.

A joint ministry initiative by Orchard Road Presbyterian Church and Presbyterian Community Services, Handiwork sees its volunteers meeting weekly at Evergreen Circle Seniors Activity Centre in Tampines and Hannah Seniors Activity Centre at Toh Yi Drive.

Apart from supporting children from needy families, the Jeans to Dreams project also gives the senior volunteers a sense of meaning and purpose, especially during the pandemic when they have been mostly confined to their homes, said Debbie.

The volunteers have sewn some 800 pencil cases and 500 water bottle holders. Photo courtesy of Jeans to Dreams.

Volunteer Fan Siew Chee, 85, told Salt&Light in Mandarin that putting her hands to work prevented her from feeling bored during the pandemic.

“Our handiwork never stops … I feel happy to be able to help others,” she said. “And I love to recycle too.”

Involving the old and the young

A jeans donation drive was held in June and July, during which more than 400 pairs were donated, including some by the families of the preschoolers themselves. 

“We hope to impart the importance of the environment and upcycling to the children by transforming old items like these denim into something beautiful that they will use – and it’s created by the elderly, whom they partner with,” said Debbie.

The oldest participant, Madam Fan (right), 85, looking on as Berry, a fellow volunteer, sews. Photo by Edwin Soo.

The seniors got to work cutting pieces of fabric and weaving them together in their own designs.

Apart from supporting needy families, the Jeans to Dreams project gives senior volunteers a sense of meaning and purpose.

Even though Lucie was told that making a plain pencil case and water bottle holder was sufficient, she wanted to come up with different designs.

“I like to have things that are creative, that are nice,” she said. “In fact, if I had a choice, there would be more designs!” she said.

She shared how she made good use of every piece of fabric, using longer strips of material for one pattern and the leftover material to make a different one. Nothing was left from each pair of pants, except the zipper, she said.

She added that she is thankful to be able to use her passions and gifts to help underprivileged children. “I think it’s very meaningful,” she said.

The senior volunteers insisted on coming up with their own designs. “I like things that are creative,” said Lucie. Photo courtesy of Jeans to Dreams.

Lana Wong, coordinator of the Jeans to Dreams project, said she was excited for this project as it involves the old and the young for a good cause.

“These are people who will never fail you the moment they say ‘yes’. They are really committed.”

“The youngest is two years old – the preschool students – and the oldest, Madam Fan, she’s 85,” she said, adding that most of Handiwork’s volunteers, like Madam Fan, had been professional tailors in the past.

Marvelling at how skilful and efficient they are, she shared that Lucie, for example, finished sewing 500 items within two weeks.

Another volunteer, Berry, completed more than 600 pieces despite being unable to sew while on stay-home notice, she added.

“These are people who will never fail you the moment they say ‘yes’. They are really committed,” said Lana.

We are God’s handiwork

At Handiwork, their favourite verse is Ephesians 2:10, which reads:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

“We really are so grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate His love just as 1 John 4:19 says – He demonstrated His love for us so that we can also show His love to others,” said Debbie.

Encouraging others to support the work of Handicraft, which can be found on Lazada, she added: “Come and support the elderly and the children! Every little bit counts.”

Those who are interested to donate directly to the Jeans to Dreams initiative may find out more here.


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About the author

Gracia Lee

Gracia is a journalism graduate who thoroughly enjoys people and words. Thankfully, she gets a satisfying dose of both as a writer and Assistant Editor at Salt&Light.