Group celebrates milestone at Greenbrier sew-in

Carol Rolf Originally Published March 17, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 15, 2013 at 11:38 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

From the left, Rebecca Manus, Ruth Hook, Karen Warner and Linda Dingley participate in a sewing party at Greenbrier Church of the Nazarene to make care caps for cancer patients.

— It was shortly after 11 a.m. on Monday when a small bell chimed in the Fellowship Hall of the Greenbrier Church of the Nazarene. Each volunteer stopped what he or she was doing to hear Mary L. Philips of Fairfield Bay call out, “125.”

These volunteers, estimated at between 120 and 150, had gathered to make “care caps” for cancer patients who have lost their hair during chemotherapy. Philips, 62, founder and director of Care Caps Connection, told the group 125 care caps had been made since the sew-in began at 9. By quitting time at 2 p.m., the number of finished caps had reached 366.

Philips said the Monday event was a sew-in “celebration,” noting that more than 50,000 care caps have been made “one at a time” and distributed nationwide since she began the project in 2006. Those in attendance came from several cities — Greenbrier, Heber Springs, Fairfield Bay, Conway, Diamondhead in Hot Springs Village, Jacksonville, Cabot and Little Rock — and all had previously participated in sew-ins.

Philips began Care Caps Connection after her sister, Linda O’Brien, also of Fairfield Bay, was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer in 2006. Philips said she came up with the design for the care cap as her sister was going through chemotherapy and was losing her hair.

“I would make the caps, and she would wear one and then give one or two away to others who were undergoing chemo at the same time,” Philips said. “That’s how it began.”

O’Brien lost her battle with cancer and died in 2007 at the age of 59, but Philips continues Care Caps Connection in her memory.

Today, Philips, along with her husband, W. Ingram Phillips, president of Care Cap Connections, a division of Volunteer America - 1776, a 501(c)(3) public charity, travels to eight locations each month, including one in Louisiana and one at the Southeast Arkansas Community Corrections Center for women in Pine Bluff. She brings all of the supplies, including 19 sewing machines, in a red trailer she calls “Ebenezer.”

Mary Philips said the reference to Ebenezer comes from the Bible: “The Lord has brought us thus far” (1 Samuel 7:12).

“All I need is a room, outlets and tables,” she said.

On Monday, however, since the group of volunteers was so large, many brought their own sewing machines.

Everything is done on a volunteer basis.

“No one makes a dime,” she said. “They don’t get paid; I don’t get paid. And we don’t charge anything for the caps. We operate entirely on donations and volunteers. We may get down to the last dollar in the bank, but the Lord always provides.”

She said the Monday sew-in featured more than 300 door prizes.

“I worked about six months collecting these door prizes,” she said as she pointed to the stage filled with items. “Everyone here will receive at least one.

“It’s really easy to ask for them. Cancer is such a nasty thing that hits everybody in one way or another, so most businesses are willing to donate something.”

Philips said there is a “job for everybody” at a sew-in.

“You don’t even have to know how to sew,” she said. “We also need cutters, ironers, baggers, gofers. There is something for everyone, and we always have one or two men who come to help.”

The caps are made on an assembly line of sorts. Each table of six to eight volunteers does one step, with the final step taken by the “miracle workers” as they inspect and iron the finished caps, slipping a card signed by the volunteers into each cap. The card reads, in part, “Wear yours in the knowledge that people you do not even know care for you today.”

The caps are then inserted into plastic bags and shipped out in bundles to various locations, including several state universities with medical centers and cancer hospitals, such as the Mayo Clinic in three locations; M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas, where McBride died, and in Orlando, Fla.; St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis; and Baptist Health, St. Vincent Hospital and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Medical Center in Little Rock.

Ingram Philips, known affectionately as the “shipper,” said approximately 1,000 caps are sent via UPS each month.

Mary Philips said the group has used more than 25 miles of fabric to make the care caps.

“It takes one mile of fabric to make 2,000 caps,” she said.

Ruth Hook of Greenbrier said she was the one who helped set up the monthly sew-ins at the Greenbrier Nazarene church.

“Mary contacted our pastor about meeting here, and he asked me to help coordinate

it,” she said. “I don’t sew, but I agreed to help. Since then, Mary has taught me to sew a little; at least I can do a straight line now. It’s a wonderful sight to see all of this here today.”

Barbara Schenk of Greenbrier has volunteered with Care Caps Connection for two years.

“I’m a cutter,” she said. “I learned about the project during a coffee here at the church. I had been wanting to do something as a volunteer, and this seemed like such a good cause.”

Rebecca Manus of Greenbrier began volunteering with the cancer project about six years ago when Philips began meeting at the local Nazarene church for sew-ins.

“It’s amazing to be able to help someone with cancer,” Manus said, “and I enjoy meeting the various volunteers.”

Karen Warner of Damascus is a breast-cancer survivor who began volunteering with Care Caps in 2008.

“It’s wonderful to help those who need caps,” she said. “I am a cancer survivor, although I did not lose my hair, praise the Lord, but I know what it must be like. I certainly feel for them.”

Donna Goodson and Judy Brown came from Damascus to participate in the sew-in; both are members of the First Baptist Church at Damascus and learned about the cancer project from a fellow church member.

“I’m a fabric roller,” Goodson said. “I’ve been doing this for about a year and a half. Mary buys the fabric in flats, and then we roll it onto bolts, which makes it easier to cut from.”

Brown said she was recruited as a fabric roller for the most recent event, but she has volunteered with Care Caps Connection for about two years.

Mary Powell of Fairfield Bay, a native of Greenbrier, attended the Monday sew-in to support her daughter Mary’s project and to honor the memory of Linda, the daughter she lost to cancer.

“I’m a turner,” Powell said as she showed visitors how to turn a cap inside-out.

“I retired in 1999 to Fairfield Bay after living in Texas for 50 years. I’m the reason my daughters moved there. I’ve been with Mary throughout the whole process.”

Mary Philips, who was born in Lymington, England, is a retired schoolteacher, having taught 30 years in Texas and overseas. She and her husband, who is a retired Army chaplain and now constable of the Indian Rock Township in Fairfield Bay, moved to Fairfield Bay in 2005 to be near her sister and mother.

Volunteers meet on the third Thursday of each month at the Greenbrier Church of the Nazarene. They meet on the second Thursday at Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Fairfield Bay.

“There are no sew-ins in April,” Philips said. “We take off twice a year, usually in April and in October.”

For more information on Care Caps Connection, visit or call (501) 884-3046.

“We are always in need of money and volunteers,”

Philips said.

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