Sitting at a long table with a cloud of polyfill fiber in front of them, Betty Stark of Wadsworth and Opal May of Norton pushed handfuls of the cottony stuffing into the arms and legs of cloth doll bodies.
They worked along with more than a dozen other volunteers who added the final stitches to the dolls, transformed small bundles of yarn into curly wigs or selected clothing and matching ribbons.
The finished dolls, looking like wide-eyed happy children, are the Giving Dolls, and their name says it all. Each doll soon will find its way into the arms of a child who needs a soft-hearted friend to hug.
The doll-making demonstration crowned the afternoon as volunteers and guests came together Saturday to celebrate the new home of The Giving Doll organization at 229 College St.
Against a backdrop of bright bolts of cloth, baskets of yarn and containers packed with doll clothes, Jan Householder, the Wadsworth native who founded the nonprofit in 2006, explained the group’s mission: “To give faith, love, hope, joy and comfort to children at times of special need” through the gift of a doll.
Householder watched the doll makers in action at the long tables, pausing as Helen Louis of Akron picked up a doll and talked about the final steps of the construction process as she sewed a red ribbon on a shoe.
“We do the finishing, we add the bling,” Louis said. She demonstrated how each doll snuggled with a blanket into a colorful handmade bag.
“If the doll is going to a child in the hospital, we include a coloring book that tells the Giving Doll story. The girl doll’s apron pockets hold crayons, and the boy dolls have big pockets for the crayons,” she said.
The Giving Doll story Louis referred to began with an act of kindness, when Householder made a doll for Katherine McVey, who was undergoing treatment for an inoperable brain tumor at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. She made 12 more for other children in the hospital’s research program.
“Well, St. Jude’s wanted more,” Householder said. So she created and copyrighted the pattern for a cloth doll that easily could be replicated and started to recruit volunteers to make the dolls with donated materials.
The organization started with one group at the Wadsworth Center for Older Adults.
“Betty (Stark) and I were at the center doing crafts,” said Marge Brooks of Wadsworth, as she worked polyfill into a doll’s arm, packing it tightly with a smooth wooden stick. She’s been with the group since it began. “There weren’t any more crafts to do, and we saw a group making dolls and walked over. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
One group blossomed into six in Medina County and the surrounding area. As local groups expanded, so did the need for storage and work space.
Householder said she joined Downtown Wadsworth, an organization that promotes community and businesses through various programs, hoping to make a connection that might lead to a permanent home for the Giving Doll. She found the former Holmesbrook Lumber building managed by Tom and Ann Hudson, owned by Tom Cox.
“I had all this stuff in my home, and we needed storage space and a place to meet and work,” Householder said. “We saw the potential in this building.”
Goods, services, labor and monetary donations from volunteers and benefactors such as The Stephenson Foundation in Medina, the Wadsworth American Legion, Topa Electric, C.G. Kish Equipment and U-Name-It Plumbing enabled the group to complete its new headquarters.
Betsy Kling of Medina, whose mother Sue Kling is a Giving Doll board member, helped secure a $5,000 grant from the Corinne L. Dodero Trust for the Arts and Sciences in Solon that allowed the Giving Doll organization to purchase 10 Brother sewing machines.
“This is a tiny organization, a grassroots organization that makes a big impact,” Kling said. “This is a big milestone for them.”
The Giving Doll, now with three groups in Florida, as well as others in New Jersey, Maine, New York and Michigan, has provided 9,471 dolls to children dealing with a serious illness, homelessness, natural disasters, a death in the family or military parents being deployed. The dolls have been sent to children in every state and 16 countries.
Kling said the Cleveland Police Department’s Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit also has distributed the dolls to children dealing with traumatic situations.
The organization is preparing dolls — more than 300 — for a special Polar Express car for seriously ill children, a Cleveland-area homeless shelter, a disaster relief trip to Haiti, children whose families are preparing for deployment and the Breathe Program for families with special needs children and their siblings sponsored by Faith Family Church in Canton.
Workshops will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday at the facility. Monetary donations to purchase materials and equipment like scissors, seam rippers, irons and ironing boards, as well as gift cards to Joann’s and Walmart, may be sent to the Giving Doll, P.O. Box 972, Wadsworth, 44282.