99-Year-Old Woman Hand-Makes 60 Dresses for Orphanage After Disaster Struck Puerto Rico

By Amy Tang

Beginning at the age of five, Martha Heft has been sewing for the past 94 years. During which, the resident of Clearwater, Florida, used her skill in the craft to help those in need, benefiting people both locally and internationally.

At an age just a year shy of triple-digits, Heft, alongside other members of her church, handmade 60 dresses for children in a Puerto Rico orphanage after the city was devastated by a hurricane eight months earlier in 2017.

Heft has been at the pedal of a sewing machine for as long as she can remember. The craft wasn’t just a hobby for Heft though, during her high school years, sewing also brought the talented seamstress material benefits.

A vintage sewing machine. (Uberprutser/Wikimedia Commons[CC BY-SA 3.0 (ept.ms/2Bw5evC)])

“When I was five-years-old I started to sew on a Damascus Treadle Sewing Machine, and from then on and in high school I took home economics. I thought that was the easiest way to get As,” Heft said to the Miami Herald.

Later in life, Heft further honed her sewing skills as a member of a quilting group. Every Monday for a few hours, Heft would join about six other ladies at Heritage United Methodist Church for sewing works. The passionate seamstress would also do some sewing on her own between the sessions. Over the years, Heft had helped to make 670 quilts which were then given to local non-profits.

A close-up of a sewing machine's needle.
A close-up of a sewing machine’s needle. (Gloria/Flickr[CC BY 2.0 (ept.ms/2haHp2Y)])

After a massive earthquake rattled Haiti in 2010, the group decided they could put their talent to better use. With Heft’s contribution, dozens of dresses were later distributed to the underprivileged girls in the city.

In 2017, the group started to make dresses again, this time for the little girls in Puerto Rico, after seeing the devastation brought to the city by Hurricane Maria. Heft may be 99-years-old, but she continued using her talent to help others nevertheless.

“It’s a joy, an accomplishment and a pleasure.” Heft described her passion for sewing.

Over 60 dresses were made to be donated to Regazo de Paz, a children’s home in Aguadilla which houses orphaned or abused girls up to the age of eight. Beautifully handmade, people may be shocked when they find out the dresses were created from donated pillowcases.

Folded pillowcases.
Folded pillowcases. (Katie Taylor/Flickr[CC BY 2.0 (ept.ms/2haHp2Y)])

In addition to the care and attention put into the colorful clothes, each of the dress was also pinned with a personalized note that lets the girls know they are loved and valued.

“Smile because we love you,” one of the notes read.

In March, the delicate dresses, in a variety of sizes and patterns, were hand-delivered to the orphanage by Heft’s granddaughter, Tara Roman and her husband, Sam Roman of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

“They were beautiful, each one had its own special touch,” Magdalena Jimenez, the executive director of the children’s home told Fox News.

The director also expressed her gratitude for the generous donation.

“We need people with the heart this lady has,” the tearful Jimenez continued.

“People don’t even know them [the girls], and for us to receive those dresses, the dresses that a 99-year-old beautiful lady made for them, it’s a blessing,” Jimenez said to Inside Edition.

To acknowledge Heft’s charity works, the sheriff’s office presented the 99-year-old a certificate of appreciation. One officer asked Heft’s daughter, Mary Ann Walker, if she ever pictured her 99-year-old mother making 60 dresses to donate to kids in need.

“I never thought she’d be 99,” Walker responded.

Another daughter of Heft, Jean Albert, said that her mother’s dedication in her charity work is inspiring others.

“She’s an inspiration,” Albert said. “We kind of have to pinch ourselves to remember that she is the age she is and she stays as active as she does.”

But Heft is proving that age is only a number, and she doesn’t have any plans of slowing down her pillowcase dress output. When asked how much longer she intends to stay behind the sewing machine, her response was casual and heart-warming.

“As long as God grants me life and health, I’m happy to do this. I just wish I had a little bit more speed,” Heft said.