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Giving BIG

Following the motto "Go Big or Go Home," 93-year-old Medford resident Gladys Magro put the finishing touches this week on the last of 100 tiny dresses she set out on April 1 to sew for orphaned and underprivileged children in Africa.

And then, having no particular reason to stop, she simply continued to sew.

"I was trying to make 100. I've got 48 hanging up, and I had at least 52 on the table, but I've made a few more since then," she said.

"And I've got at least 50 pairs of pants ready to send."

The retired school psychologist is a big fan of doing what you're able to do ... and doing everything in a big way.

Flanked by bins of fabric, a spool-covered gadget and a snarky cat named Sparky, Magro spends her free time sewing basic "pillowcase" dresses and stacks of pants for children in need.

A clothes rack on one side of her sewing den brims with dresses in patterns ranging from stripes and tiny elephants to polka dots, plaids and checks.

She supplies the dresses to Little Dresses for Africa (www.littledressesforafrica.org), a nonprofit based in Brownstown, Mich. Founded in 2008, the organization sends dresses to more than 30 countries.

The basic pillowcase-style dress is simple to make and inexpensive for volunteers to create in bulk.

Although Magro had largely given up sewing after her husband passed away five years ago, she saw a story online about a 100-year-old vying to make 1,000 dresses for the Michigan-based nonprofit that provides dresses and pants to African orphanages, churches and schools.

Magro has also donated to veterans hospitals in the cities she's lived, and since moving to the Rogue Valley a decade ago she has contributed items to Maslow Project, Hearts with a Mission and ACCESS.

"I don't ever do things on a small scale, which you can see. I have three sewing machines and everything I could need," Magro said. "When I go into something, I do it."

After starting on April Fools Day, Magro had at least a half-dozen dresses sewn by her birthday the following day.

"I can make one in about 30 minutes, but I do several at once in stages," she points out.

"The cat comes in and checks on me and then goes back outside. Sometimes he sits on the walker while I'm cutting fabric. He's my watch dog."

Daughter Karen Whalen smiled at the notion of the snarky cat and the piles of material she's amassed for her mom to make, at least, 100 dresses.

Whalen said the project has given her mom a way to help others using a skill she's always been good at.

"This project has made her stay busy. She's done a lot in her life, so she's not one to sit still," Whalen said.

"She had given all her fabric away when she stopped sewing, so now I find myself looking at yard sales. It's such a fun project and a fun way to help people."

Ever positive, Magro marvels at her own luck at 93 years young.

"I'm really getting more out of this than anybody," Magro said. "I was pretty depressed and pretty bored. I can't walk too well or do much. This has just been really great.

"If I wake up ... at 4 a.m. and I want to come in here and sew, I can make some dresses. If I want to take a nap at 10, I can take a nap and come back and sew more later. I've got a lot to be grateful for."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Gladys Magro, 93, is sewing 100 dresses she will donate to kids in Africa. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell