In February, 2006, when Jan Householder was a teacher in Wadsworth School district, a co-worker’s daughter, Katherine, was found to have an inoperable brain tumor. The little girl became a patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Heartbroken and searching for a way to help, Jan decided to make Katherine a small cloth doll.
Katherine loved her new doll and thought that other children at St. Jude would like them, too. She asked Jan to make a few more dolls that she could share. Jan was delighted. Together with a small group of volunteers, they created twelve handmade dolls, which Katherine shared at the hospital when she went for treatments. For just over a year, as Katherine was in and out of St. Jude, she gave the dolls to other children at the hospital.
Sadly, Katherine lost her battle in March, 2007.
Jan realized, though, how much joy the dolls brought the patients at St. Jude and recognized that children from all over the world were also in need of the comfort the dolls provided. As those needs became more apparent, the program expanded to include children in a variety of settings worldwide.
Dolls are now given to St. Jude, military families, hospitals, childhood cancer camps, foster care programs, and individual cases. Each doll is shared with a specific child or group of children in mind, and each one-of-a-kind creation is given a name, a blanket, and a bag. Giving Dolls are not for sale and may be shared only with children in need.
The Giving Doll, Inc. became a 501 (c) (3) non profit in 2009, and Jan had the pattern for the Giving Doll copyrighted. “This way, she explains, “all official giving dolls look the same.” Over 53,100 dolls have been shared all over the world in the last 13 years, given to children in every state and in 64 foreign countries.
The Giving Doll is run strictly on donations of fabric, sewing supplies, time, and money, all of which have helped the organization continue over the years. Recently, The Giving Doll headquarters outgrew their space in Wadsworth, and a community member gave the group a loan to buy an old drapery building in Norton, Ohio.
Once again, the community rallied. Painters donated their time and their paint. A new sign and a new roof were donated, as well. Somehow, whenever Jan felt as if a plan might not work, everything would come together.
A staff of about 35 volunteers works each Tuesday and Thursday at The Giving Doll World Headquarters in Norton, assembling the dolls. Dolls are also created in other parts of Ohio, and groups have popped up in ten other states, as well. Happily, volunteers don’t need to know how to sew to help assemble the dolls. Since Jan is the only person who makes a doll from start to finish, there are jobs for everyone. Making a doll takes about eight hours, with love sewn into each one.
Every 5,000 dolls, The Giving Doll celebrates with a special gold glittery doll in honor of Pediatric Cancer and in memory of Katherine. In September, the organization held a celebration luncheon for their 50,000th doll and recognized a special child at the Galaxy Restaurant in Wadsworth, Ohio.
The Giving Doll’s mission is “ to give faith, love, joy, hope, and comfort to children worldwide, at times of special need through the construction and distribution of handmade cloth dolls,” affirms Jan. “Any individual can make a difference.”