If ever you’ve doubted the power of little things, you need only witness a child going through a difficult time who’s been given a soft-sculpture doll from Jan Householder’s “Giving Doll Ministry” — it’s a forever friend, to have and to hold.
The Wadsworth woman started the ministry in 2006 and, with the help of more than 570 volunteer seamstresses and helpers, has touched the lives of hurting children all over the nation and in 42 countries, including children in Japan whose lives were upended by the earthquake and tsunami. The ministry now has just 295 dolls to give away to reach the milestone of 15,000.
Recently Householder and company made a special delivery to Akron’s Ronald McDonald House, where out-of-the-area families with seriously ill children at Akron Children’s Hospital can stay for nearly free. She dropped off 20 dolls fashioned by a volunteer group from Barberton.
This will be the first of many 20-doll sets that will be delivered within the year to the 182 Ronald McDonald Houses around the country. Ohio has six.
The combination of 12 girl dolls and eight boy dolls is significant, Householder explained: “They represent each of the children gunned down at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., who became angels.”
Each is fashioned with bright red shoes, like Ronald McDonald’s.
According to Householder, Giving Doll volunteers in Long Island, N.Y., and Camden, N.J., are poised to deliver 20 dolls with red shoes this week to Ronald McDonald Houses in Manhattan and Camden. Groups in Florida and other states soon will do the same.
“We’re very proud that the first group of volunteers to make these 20 dolls with the red feet are from our Barberton group,” said Householder, who was flanked this day by her mother, Mary Lue Bower, long active in the mission; and Helen Louis of the Barberton chapter, who is charged with adding “the bling” to the dolls.
Others who have carefully threaded themselves into the Barberton group include Carolyn and Don Brinkley (she makes the dresses and he makes the hair) and her 97-year-old mother, Opal May, who stuffs the dolls. And the doll quilts are done by the Portage Patchers of Mogadore.
Anne Collins, executive director of Akron’s Ronald McDonald House, said she is proud to receive the first of these red-shod dolls: “I give Jan so much credit for doing this … When you see the 20 dolls together it really hits home about the children who were victims of Newtown. You just see how many lost their lives that day.”
Collins has been on the receiving end of myriad Giving Dolls over the years, for children staying at the house who have siblings in the hospital. She talked about the comfort the dolls provide: “They are especially important for the siblings staying here. Anything that can help them feel special. … They don’t know Jan or the other volunteers but they do know someone cares … None of them want to be here but the dolls help make being here a little brighter.”
“It’s been proven that families who stay together heal faster,” Collins continued.
A place to stay
Akron’s 20-bedroom Ronald McDonald House opened debt-free in 1985 and is poised for a much-needed expansion to add 50 to 60 bedrooms. It provides a place to stay for out-of-town families (from as near as Tuscarawas County to as far as Italy and Spain) with children in medical crises or therapy for a maximum of $10 a day. It also provides those families with three meals a day, a laundry area, access to the kitchen and a playroom and playground.
One hundred fifty volunteers enhance the house’s full-time staff of four in helping to make the families as comfortable as possible.
On this day, husband and wife volunteers Jack and Elaine Thompson of Bath Township were in the kitchen baking multiple batches of cookies. The smell alone was drawing in families — back from hospital visits and conferences with their children’s doctors — almost like home.
The first Ronald McDonald House was established in Philadelphia in 1974. When the 3-year-old daughter of Philadelphia Eagles tight end Fred Hill was diagnosed with leukemia and treated at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, he saw so many other parents who rarely left their children’s bedsides, and had traveled great distances for them to be treated
He wanted to help these families, rallied his teammates to raise money, and McDonald’s restaurants joined the effort to build the first house.
Today, there are more than 300 Ronald McDonald House programs in 30 countries.
Pop tab chief
Flo Iacobucci, a dedicated volunteer at Akron’s house, has taken it upon herself to be the pop-tab chief.
The Tallmadge resident has placed containers throughout her city, making it easier for residents to deposit their tabs. She then retrieves the containers, and turns them over to the house to be recycled for cash.
Iacobucci calls the program — which accepts tabs from pop, beer, soup or pet food cans — valuable income for the house.
“It takes about 1,280 tabs to make a pound,” Iacobucci explained. “The house gets 45 to 75 cents a pound for them. So, we need a ton of them to make a difference.”
“The Ronald McDonald House in Columbus makes about $34,000 a year from the pop tab donations and Cleveland about $18,000,” Iacobucci continued, “while Akron gets only about $4,000 a year.”
Clearly, we can do so much better.
In the past, Collins said the money collected from the pop tab recycling has been used to purchase a computer, radio, and camera for the house.
“Collecting the tabs is an easy thing to do,” Iacobucci said. Once you get a gallon-size container full or more, please call the Ronald McDonald House at 330-543-5400.
If you are interested in getting involved with the nonprofit Giving Doll ministry (it is in need of corporate sponsors to facilitate mailings and more) please email firstname.lastname@example.org or write: The Giving Doll, P.O. Box 972, Wadsworth, OH 44282.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or email@example.com.