Volunteer team at Middletown 55-and-over community donates dolls to children through hospitals, shelters and agencies

No one could be more passionate about an activity than Carolyn Rifino who seven years ago began The Giving Dolls project and who has acquired many helping hands to accomplish her objective. Her enthusiasm for such a special project was shared by other residents who were willing to help and the mission became a reality.

About 400 dolls are sewn each year, and this year the project reached the 3,000-doll milestone.

The success of The Giving Doll program could not have happened without the assistance of some very dedicated volunteers.

Workshops held twice a month at the Springmill Clubhouse welcome many women who cut patterns, sew, stuff, work on hair styles and make beautiful clothing all came together, and today the women are just as enthusiastic as they were in the beginning.

Springmill resident Stan Heer can be counted on to sew the faces, making doll creation a little easier for the women.

Not only are girl dolls made, but also boy dolls for young boys who are seriously ill.

In addition to the many dolls given away, each child is given a blanket to wrap up her doll, all donated by the talented MOT Senior Center Quilt Group

Rifino said, “It takes a village” to make these dolls as it needs not only talented volunteers but also many kinds of material which come from donations and are always most welcomed.

Dolls are given to Nemours/A. I. du Pont Hospital for Children, the Delaware Hospital for the Critically Ill, Bayhealth Hospital’s Kent Campus, Kay’s Kamp for children with cancer, Peoples Place, Department of Services for Children, Youth & Their Families Crisis Center, Bayard Women's Prison for inmates’ children, and to shelters and others.

Rifino realized that women living in assisted care facilities, especially women with Alzheimer’s, welcome with great enthusiasm the gift of a special doll to hold.

Dolls are also given to children in pre-K programs. In the Christiana School District this year, 60 dolls were presented to young children, which included classes with healthy as well as special needs children.

More and more names are added to the list every year for dolls, and it extends beyond the local area as far as Georgetown and Milford.

Each year about 100 of the dolls go on church mission trips to locations such as Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The group’s scrapbooks are filled with thank you notes and smiling faces from around the world.

For the past seven years, a total of 20 women have participated faithfully in this undertaking with some women attending the semi-monthly workshops while other members work at home. Either way, both groups are needed to complete a handmade doll which takes about six to seven hours. Members are welcome to design and create a special doll. Past examples include a “surfer dude” doll, a pirate doll, and a bridal doll complete with veil. No two dolls are ever alike. Bodies vary from light skin color to brown and tan and hair comprising as many colors of the rainbow with a matching outfit.

Rifino said the satisfaction of knowing young children will truly treasure their special doll is worth every moment spent creating it.

“Our passion for this project has never stopped and as long as there are children and Alzheimer’s patients who welcome the gift of a special doll, we will continue to give our time and talent to this special endeavor,” she said.

Donations of polyfil, solid color cotton fabric, one-inch lace, quarter-inch ribbon, and yarn are most welcome. To donate, email Rifino at crifino@udel.edu. Monetary donations are also gladly accepted to purchase needed supplies.