Think back to when you were a little kid, playing make-believe with the toys in your room. You probably had a favorite baby doll, teddy bear or some other toy that you took care of as if it were real and depended on you to survive. It made you feel important and like a grownup because you knew that this little thing needed you to feed it, play with it and to love it. It’s a pretty powerful feeling when you think about it, knowing that you are needed by someone or something… even if they are only real in your mind. No matter how old we become, that feeling of wanting to be needed never really goes away; if anything it only becomes stronger.
That feeling played a part when Mary Ann Smith, and her husband Franklin, started a doll ministry in 1997. Franklin had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and the doctors suggested to Mary Ann that she do something to help keep his mind busy and active. A collector of dolls herself, she thought that others, especially the elderly in nursing homes, would enjoy having something that was theirs to take care of long after their children had grown up.
Some of the dolls and stuffed animals are from her personal collection, and others have been donated or purchased specifically for the ministry. Mary Ann takes the dolls home to clean them up and to dress them before giving them away. To date, over 13,000 dolls have been donated to 19 different nursing homes, the Upson County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia State Patrol and Thomaston Police Department.
Sadly, Franklin passed away in 2003, but Mary Ann decided to keep the ministry going because she loved being able to give back to someone else.
“It has truly been a blessing to me, to see their faces light up when they realize this is something they can keep,” she said. “I plan to do this as long as my health holds out.”
Last week Mary Ann, along with help from friends and fellow Hightower Silvertown United Methodist Church members Cathy Rosenthal, Emily Davidson and Idell Trawick, brought over 100 dolls and stuffed animals out to the residents of Riverside Nursing Center. After setting up shop in the Activities Room, the ladies helped the residents pick out the perfect “baby” to take back to their room. There were even adoption papers drawn up to prove that “baby” was now part of their family.
“My daughter actually had the suggestion about the adoption papers,” said Mary Ann, “because many of those we donated to wanted to know how long they could keep the doll or the stuffed animal before having to give it back. So to help ease their mind, we made up the certificate so they could put the name of the “baby” and their name and the date to show that it was theirs to keep.”
Donna Coates, Social Services Director for Riverside, stated that Riverside was very glad to be the beneficiaries of the ministry this time around. She also noted that is greatly helps those who are beginning to feel that others do not need them as much as they once did.
“This absolutely helps. It gives them something to nurture and to love on. No matter how old we are, you never lose the feeling of needing to be needed.”