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Volunteers’ handmade dolls comfort patients

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Stuffed with cotton. Finished with compassion and care.

So it is for Pal Dolls — free, soft, cotton-stuffed, hand-sewn toys for youngsters undergoing medical procedures at Columbus Regional Hospital and Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

Courtesy of hospital staff, the dolls get treated along with the child — Band-Aids when blood is drawn or a bandaged leg if a child has a cast.

The Happy Helping Hands volunteer group at Columbus’ Mill Race Center — which serves the 50-plus population — makes the creations from mostly donated materials when they gather weekly for two-hour assembly and fellowship sessions. Last year the group made 1,260 dolls.

“They’re made with love,” said Joanne Sublette, 87, one of the newer members of the group, which recently marked 30 years of its work.

In fact, they’re made with even more than love, according to 88-year-old Opal Lovelace, the group’s leader. She takes home finished dolls — girls, boys, white and brown — and prays over them.

“Nothing in particular,” Lovelace said. “Just that the children will know how much God loves them.”

Some of the Happy Helping Hands members grew up in tough economic times with no doll in their childhood. They don’t want that to happen to today’s youngsters, especially those facing medical issues.

The dolls make enough of an impact at such a significant time for children that some save the dolls as keepsakes. The Happy Helping Hands recently heard of a college-aged, male student who kept his doll from years ago.

Daniel Noel, a registered nurse and manager of Columbus Regional Hospital’s recovery room and outpatient surgery, sees the calming influence of the dolls on young patients, mostly 2 to

10 years old. Some grow upset if medical staff points to the child’s arms or legs where procedures will be done. But if staffers use the doll as a substitute patient, many children are much more cooperative, Noel said.

“So we sometimes use the dolls as a teaching tool,” Noel said. “Other times, they can be a toy for the child to play with before surgery — or a nice distraction for them.”

Many of the volunteer doll builders began with their efforts with a very simple purpose a few years ago.

“It got me out of the house and gave me something to do,” 89-year-old Ruby Tays said, as she prepared to sew on yarn hair on some of the creations during a recent work session at the center’s arts room.

These days, Tays and her cohorts are living with a purpose for others — to bring a measure of comfort to the hurting and worried among the pint-sized set. They aim to do that with an eye for detail. Every doll features a big smile and a little belly button.

“We just use a needle for that,” said volunteer Janet Sharp, as she sewed an arc by hand for an eyebrow.

The group also makes a few dolls to sell to the public at $5 apiece. Some of those come with such accessories as bloomers and other added features.

Group members always are seeking others to join their calling, no matter their skills.

For instance, Sublette cannot sew. So she spends her time each week cutting patterns for the finished product.

“I’m at least handy with the scissors,” she said with a laugh. “Thank goodness for the really talented people here.”

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