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Doll ministry puts toys under the tree

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A UMNS photo by Tim Griffis

Betty Lou Stout has refurbished thousands of dolls over the years

Dec. 21, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Jan Snider*

TUKWILA, Wash.--It was a moment Betty Stout treasures.

As the child and her mother stepped onto the public bus, Stout recognized the doll lovingly clutched in the arms of the little girl.

Stout noticed the doll clothes that she had fashioned herself after the worn and pre-loved toy had come into her possession. The doll also received a good scrubbing and a new hairdo before being sent off to be loved again.

The 84-year-old Stout has refurbished thousands of dolls over the past 35 years. "I just hate to think of any little child not having a toy under the Christmas tree. I can't think of anything worse," she explains.

Stout leads a team of "elves" who gather on Thursday mornings at Riverton Park United Methodist Church in Tukwila, Washington. The dolls are distributed to children who will have few, if any, presents for Christmas. This year, more than 200 dolls will be presented to children in the community near Seattle.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Tim Griffis

Besides a new dress, the donated dolls receive a good scrubbing and a new hairdo before being distributed.

"It's a regular assembly line," she notes. Some of the women specialize in sewing doll clothes, others crochet new booties or fix hair. One homebound woman sews quilt blocks for doll blankets. The ministry is active 11 months out of the year.

It doesn't take a lot of fancy equipment or training to revamp the dolls. Stout uses her circa 1922 sewing machine and patterns from when she made doll clothes for her own daughter, who is now 61 years old. "What I told the girls when we first started was always remember to make the dress look like it was the only toy their child was going to get," says Stout.

If a doll has ink scribbled on it, the ladies have learned to coat the ink spot with petroleum jelly and leave it in the sun to bleach out. Because so many of the families that receive the toys have limited funds, dolls requiring batteries are refurbished so that none are necessary. Sensitive to a child's concern, battery wells are filled with plaster so the dolls won't feel empty inside.

A doll is finished when it looks new again. As Stout puts the finishing touches on a doll she expresses a frequent wish, "I hope she gets a good little mother."

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Tim Griffis

Parishioners bless the dolls before they are given to children at Christmas.

Many of the dolls are now donated, but originally, the doll dressers had to scour yard sales and thrift stores for suitable candidates. Money for supplies is raised by selling collectible dolls that the ladies come across and fix up.

Right before Christmas, the dolls are displayed in the sanctuary of Riverton Park United Methodist Church. The Rev. Karla Fredericksen tells the congregation to, "Pick a doll, and send your special prayer upon that doll."

And, while most of the doll dressers never get to see the toys delivered into the arms of excited children, Stout says, "We just hope and pray they go to children that need them and that they'll know that they're loved."

*Snider is a freelance producer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.

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