History of Martha's Task
Martha’s Task began as an idea for an outreach ministry of The Community of St. James Catholic Church in Bartlesville, Oklahoma in the late 90’s. It was sparked by a 1986 pastoral letter from the U.S. Catholic bishops entitled ECONOMIC JUSTICE FOR ALL.
A retiring Bartlesville seamstress, Lois Morgan, heard that the congregation was seeking a means to begin an economic endeavor for those living in poverty and donated all her professional sewing machines, sewing tables and supplies to the church, so we began our unexplored adventure into a new world of economic outreach.
With this generous gift of machines and supplies, a small sewing business was started in an unused room of the church. Lois was hired to teach a couple of economically deprived women to sew, and for the next year, Martha’s Task did part-time sewing for a local home decorating business (Lois stayed on as a sewing instructor for the next 12 years – so much for retirement). When the organization had saved $2000 from its contract sewing venture, the congregation decided there were enough financial resources and experience to bring the outreach to marginalized women in the Bartlesville area. Due to the generosity of another local non-profit organization that had an unused building, the workshop was moved into a much larger space. Soon sewing lessons began for women who were in financial crisis and who did not fit into a traditional job setting.
One of the most surprising and unexpected gifts to the program was the amount of unused fabric in the community. Fabric was donated by the yards from women who cleaned out their sewing closets or by families who had lost a loved who was a seamstress. Almost every morning there was another box or bag of unused fabric on our doorstep.
Within the first year of operation there was an unlimited supply of cast-off fabric, scissors, threads, used sewing machines and other sewing notions that were continually donated to the program. Using these generous and heartfelt donations, the organization began making aprons and selling them at local bazaars. Because of these donations of cast-off or recycled supplies, the seamstresses were able to keep 100% of every sale they made.
In 2005, the founding pastor of Martha’s Task retired. His replacement was a priest whose calling was focused on internal affairs rather than outreach. So the organization became an entity not directly associated with a particular parish – although St. James Church continues to support the program with a generous monthly donation.
Today we are supported by several churches, many generous individuals, local organizations, and foundations. We receive no government funds. Martha’s Task has been a 501 (c) (3) non-profit since the year 2002.
The Sew Original Gift Shop
As our economic development program continued to grow and our seamstresses branched out to a wide variety of crafting skills, we saw a need for increased marketing outlets for our seamstresses. So in 2005 we established a gift shop on the premises. It is called SEW ORIGINAL: The Work of Our Hands. The gift shop has been a good source of supplemental income for many of our clients, and we have a loyal following of many appreciative customers.
Our business has also branched out to include contract work for individuals. Our seamstresses have a steady stream of clients who order specific items to be made; such as purses, children’s items, men’s gifts, and kitchen linens. Recently we added a monogram machine so that we could personalize gifts.
Adapting for the Future
It became obvious that economic development in the 21st century included the internet and the potential for a larger economic market. This brings us to the present. As with all that we do at Martha’s Task, marketing on-line will be a journey of honing new skills and learning to think outside the box. At the same time it opens new doors for women who have never used a computer and/or who have never traveled outside our state to experience a bigger world.