A child always remembers his or her first doll. But when a child is in foster care, sometimes that doll is lost in the shuffle, or the child has yet to receive one.
That’s where Special Dollivery comes in. Volunteers take donated American Girl dolls, fix them up, get a kit together including a brush, handmade clothes, plus other accessories, and then put it all in a carrying bag and give it to foster children in Utah.
The Desire to Help in a Special Way
Susan Robison, founder of Special Dollivery, says it all started when she and some other grandmas just wanted to help kids. They were looking for something special to offer, and Robison read an article about the needs of foster children. That’s when the idea of giving dolls to foster kids sparked.
“It just felt right,” she explains.
While they could have provided any type of doll, Robison explains that they wanted to provide a high-quality doll that would last a long time and send a message to the foster children that they are worth the time and effort for a quality gift.
The feedback she’s received about the children receiving the dolls is reason enough to keep going.
“A doll can have a profound impact on a child,” Robison says. “When these foster kids are going into strange homes, a doll is something they can cling to. It’s really more than just a doll.”
It Takes a Village
When dolls are ready for delivery, they are handed over to Maegen Bernardo, who is the retention services specialist at Utah Foster Care in Ogen, to then be placed into the hands of foster children.
“We often say it takes a village to support our foster families and the children they care for, and it’s true,” Bernardo says. “Special Dollivery is definitely a part of that village.”
The dolls are available for any child in the foster care system in Utah. Many are able to choose their own doll, and others are given the doll by their foster parent as a surprise. And it doesn’t seem to matter how old a child is because they all love getting them.
“We’ve had boys and girls of all ages (even teens) receive a doll, and their reactions are priceless!” Bernardo says. “Usually full-on excitement is common, but I’ve also seen them be so loving and gentle with the dolls—hugging and holding them as if they are the most precious thing in the world. We’ve had children cry who’ve never had a doll before. One little boy kept saying, ‘He looks like me!’ over and over. It is truly magical!”
For another child in foster care who was turning 15, the foster parents threw her a quinceanera. The special gift? A Special Dollivery doll with a quinceanera dress on it. The girl absolutely loved it.
As Robison says, “You never grow out of having a doll.”
Daring to Dream Again
On the Special Dollivery website, it says that dolls are powerful in the hands of children because they open up children’s imagination play and help them understand who they are and what they want to become. When a child is in foster care, sometimes dreams can be shattered; a doll can help them dream again.
Their goal for 2022, Robison says, is to provide graduation and career outfits for dolls so the children can pretend and think about their own futures. So seamstresses have been coming up with things like vet scrubs, astronaut suits, and so much more.
“We want them to dream big and see themselves in positive situations,” Robison says.
An Army of Seamstresses
Their army of 40 volunteer seamstresses hail from all over the United States. They purchase their own fabric, spend hours sewing, and then pay to ship their creations to be added to Special Dollivery packs.
“Some of the things they come up with are so creative. They have so much talent. Sewing really is a lost art,” Robison says. “They are using their gift to bless the life of a child.”
While their talent is helping others, they also see an impact in their own lives. One seamstress in Georgia lives in a retirement community and now donates much of her time to sewing clothes for the dolls. The woman told Robison that with sewing doll clothes, she feels like she has a purpose now.
A Community Effort
Occasionally, Special Dollivery will hold a packaging event where they invite young people in the community to come and help put doll packs together. At a church gym, Robison and others will lay out dolls, clothes, brushes, and carrying bags. Then young children in the community will come and put together packs that will be given to foster children.
“It’s so beautiful the amount of detail and care that they take in putting together outfits and selecting just the right pieces,” Robison explains. “Not one has ever asked to keep a doll because they get it. They know how much of an impact the doll will have in the hands of the foster child. It just brings tears to your eyes.”
To donate to Special Dollivery, visit the website’s main page, scroll down and click on the “donate” button.
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