By Laurel Busby
Every February, about 30 local women switch from making homemade dollies and teddy bears to creating Valentines.
These charitable folks, who since 2010 have made more than 11,000 dollies and teddy bears for children in need, turn their efforts to handcrafted Valentines for sick children and seniors at Sunrise of Santa Monica, a senior living home, and the UCLA Medical Centers in Santa Monica and Westwood.
“For the first two weeks of February, we clear our table of dollies and bears to make Valentines,” said Cindy Simon, co-founder of Dollies Making a Difference, an organization that works to provide community, connection and comfort to children around the world. Each Valentine “is one of a kind. They’re made in a festive atmosphere in the fellowship of our ladies sitting around the table. I think there’s a special magic in getting a homemade Valentine. These are all made with love.”
Throughout the year, Simon and the group’s other members, who include many Palisadians, gather each Wednesday morning at her home to commune and create the handmade gifts “with a lot of chatter, laughter and love.” They are then delivered around the world by Dollie Ambassadors. However, for the Valentines, the recipients also get some extra love from canine cupids who help the ambassadors and medical center employees deliver the cards. Five dogs, who are part of UCLA’s pet therapy program, bring the Valentines to the kids and seniors.
“Not only does the patient get a Valentine, but they’re delivered by these adorable dogs,” Simon noted. Palisadian Becky Winding, who is a member of the group and also works at UCLA, suggested that Dollies Making a Difference include the effort in their mission four years ago.
Initially, kids at UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital were the only recipients, but the following year, they expanded it to include seniors too. This year, 310 people received the Valentines, and the idea is that a little bit of love and caring comes with each unique missive.
“Hopefully the good feeling from it lasts a long time,” said Simon, who has lived in the Palisades since 1990. “Hopefully, it’s a nice memory—a good thing happened while I was there. These ladies made these Valentines, and it made me feel special.”
Dollies Making a Difference was recently featured on a local CBS News segment, and someone in the Long Beach Police Department saw the piece and asked the women to make dollies and teddy bears to give to children who came to the department after experiencing trauma or abuse.
In addition, word of mouth about the group has traveled and varied nonprofits have asked for the dollies and teddy bears to bring some love to kids they serve. For example, a group called Get on the Bus, which will provide four buses this month so kids can visit their parents in prison,will now have dollies and teddies for the kids when they return to the buses after their visits.
“They will be given their teddy bears and dollies as a comfort—something for them to hold on the bus ride home,” Simon said. “It’s got to be hard to leave their moms or dads.”
Dollies Making a Difference also does fundraising to provide further aid. For example, in addition to handmade items, the group recently provided $280 worth of socks and underwear to a women and children’s center in Whittier that listed these items as an immediate need. Worthy organizations also can apply for up to $2,000 in grants.
“Our little motto is ‘to give is to receive,’” Simon said. More information, including an online grant application, is available at dolliesmakingadifference.org.