Seamstress makes tote bags from empty sacks

Barbara Hootman

Local resident Joyce Norton turns empty feed sacks into colorful, usable tote bags to raise money for abandoned and abused babies in a Guatemala orphanage.

Norton, a lifelong resident of Black Mountain, has been working at Black Mountain Neuro-Medical Treatment Center for 15 years.

“I used to be the activities director, and now I am the seamstress, which I love,” Norton said. “I make the clothes that many of the patients wear.”

Being a skilled seamstress carries over to Norton’s afternoons, evenings and weekends. She makes large tote bags from all-weather sacks that held corn, pet food, kitty litter, bird seed or other stuff. By doing so, she’s recycling what others see as trash. By selling the totes, she’s also raising money for an orphanage in Guatemala.

“A friend of mine, Karen Weeks, went to Guatemala and visited The House of Hope where the babies are,” Norton said. “Some of the children are so young, the umbilical cord is still attached when they arrive. The orphanage holds only 11 children. The oldest is 4 years old, and the rest are under a year. The young pregnant women go to the city, have their babies and abandon them because their families will cast them out if they bring the children home.”

Some of the children are products of rape. Some have been neglected or abused and removed from homes. Other have been living with elderly relatives who cannot care for them properly. The House of Hope makes room for them all.

The private orphanage, which operates on donations alone, was founded by Diane and Justin Herman in honor of their daughter Hope, who died of leukemia in 2008.

“I have never visited the orphanage, but I am planning to go in October,” Norton said. “Last year I raised $200 from making and selling tote bags. The money was used to buy baby formula. I gave the money to the orphanage, and the woman who runs it purchased formula and milk.”

The bags, which sell for $5 each, are available at Kim’s Cuts at 191 Old U.S. 70 and Landscape Solutions at 3122 U.S. 70 in Black Mountain. But Norton sells most of them by word of mouth. “A lot of people that I work with have wanted them, and then their friends have wanted some,” she said.

Functional, colorful and strong and made out of rain-proof, tarp-like material, the totes means there are fewer bags going to landfills. They’re large enough to hold quite a few groceries.

“I do this for the Lord, and for the babies,” Norton said. “I can’t wait to visit the orphanage and see what else I can do.”

She’s already trying. Recently, she and Pam Lawing quilted 15 baby quilts and sent them to the orphanage.