MIDLAND PARK, N.J. — Fidencia Castrillo, a popular dressmaker in Midland Park, will do anyone a small favor here and there.
A broken zipper? A loose hem? The Costa Rican immigrant – owner of Fidencia Dressmaking at 171 Godwin Ave. – will fix or sew it in a jiffy.
Then comes the question, “What do I owe you?”
Invariably, she smiles and pushes a big plastic baby bottle across the counter.
It’s where she stashes her cash tips. She donates it all to a fund at her congregation — Cornerstone Christian Church in Wyckoff.
“They help the ladies from Paterson and other places who get pregnant,” Castrillo said. “There are doctors that help them either give their babies away for adoption or keep them.”
Castrillo is 64. She’s been single her whole life. She has no children.
But she sure does know what it means to struggle and how a hand up can make a huge difference.
When she immigrated to the U.S. at age 29, she stayed, at first, with relatives in Paterson, she said. In those days, she was an illegal immigrant working in a Hawthorne factory.
She was always good with sewing, she explained recently as she transformed ornate Italian curtains into pillowcases for a customer.
She also makes baptismal outfits out of grandmothers’ wedding dresses, and much more.
“I am one of 16 kids and I learned to make anything from everything!” Castrillo said.
“We had no money, so you always had to figure out how to help the family.”
In her case, she was always handy with needle and thread – the same skill upon which she built a successful business life.
But not by herself. She gets misty eyed remembering all the help she received.
There was the factory foreman who helped get all her citizenship paperwork in order.
There was the woman who helped her land her first $250-a-month apartment — and then drove her to garage sales.
Castrillo did not have so much as a dish to her name.
“The first thing I needed was a bed,” she recalled.
Then the late Nancy and Dick Steinbruch of Mahwah, a Christian family, came along.
“They adopted me into their family,” Castrillo said. “Mommy used to introduce me and say, ‘This is my little girl. She is 30 going on 15.’
“I was ignorant and naïve but fired up to learn the language and go to school.”
And go to school, she did. She graduated John F. Kennedy High School in Paterson and then Passaic County Community College, all while working.
Dick Steinbruch, who she calls “Daddy,” safeguarded and helped her manage her money and establish her own business. Her first shop was 14 feet by 11 feet. Today Castrillo helps her nieces back home.
Two are already pharmacists, Castrillo said, proudly.
“That’s what the Bible tells us to do,” she said. “It says to help.”