It started as a one-woman mission to bring healing to grieving mothers. In six years' time, Virginia Cortes has made 12,000 "angel gowns" with the help of volunteers, and a couple of incoming wedding dresses a day.
Cortes, who founded Sunshine State Angel Gowns, said she started the project in honor of her son, Robert "Tito" Cortes, who passed away from complications related to cerebral palsy when he was 5-years-old.
She didn't have the money to pay for his burial gown. "I picked out the white suit, the shirt, bowtie, a pair of socks," she said. "When I went to pay it was $75 and all I have was $50, so I started crying. We were broke."
Cortes said the woman at the boutique gifted her the outfit.
"I always had that hole in my heart, I wanted to do something," said Cortes, who says she now honors her son by making angel gowns one at a time. She gives them to other grieving mothers.
The beauty of this operation and mission was born out of grief. She turned donated wedding gowns into burial gowns for grieving mothers, who are dealing with a stillbirth, a miscarriage, any loss of a baby.
"Even though he's been gone 29 years, sometimes as I'm doing this, it's healing for the mommies that get it, but it's healing for me," she said. "It's a process."
She said it the dress doesn't talk to her at first then she doesn't touch it until it does. "One day it clicks, and I'll put it on the cutting table."
It wasn't the plan to come home with angel gowns for two unsolved local cases, but something greater is at work here. "The more you talk about your angel, the more healing you will receive," said Cortes.
Christine Christofek Weiss with the Martin County Sheriff's Office is at peace donating her wedding dress.
A burial gown cut from Christine's wedding gown is now a burial gown for Baby June, the infant found in June near the Boynton Beach inlet. She also picked up one for the remains of Baby Moses, a decades-old case recently reopened. The baby was found floating in the St. Lucie River in 1983.
"All of these have a story," said Christofek Weiss. "They have a front story and then and there is going to be an end story, and there is something peaceful about that."
"I do think about who is going to take this, who is the mommy going through the storm to receive this gown that I'm creating?" said Cortes.
Her final messages to other mothers: "You are not alone."
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