by Major Lee Ann Thompson
This Christmas among the thousands of toys at The Salvation Army’s Toyland in Omaha, Neb., are some stunning, hand-dressed dolls with an international flair just waiting to find a new home with children whose parents turn to us for assistance. One doll is Dutch, another German, still another Swedish; 18 in all, they are as beautiful as when they were dressed and harken back to a program that was a Christmas tradition for more than 40 years.
In the late 1960s The Salvation Army in Omaha and Mutual of Omaha Insurance partnered in a citywide opportunity for people who loved to sew and wanted to bring joy to a boy or girl through the Dress-a-Doll program. On public display, hundreds of dolls were judged, awarded prizes as the best dressed in several categories, and then packed p for distribution at our Toyland.
From 1999 to 2004 I was responsible for the Doll and Teddy Bear program. I would order hundreds of dolls and bears in April and begin distributing them to volunteers who would dress them. It was fun to hear what they had in mind; many worked on their theme all year.
One of my favorite seasonal events was the auction of some of the dolls at the downtown Rotary Club during their Christmas meeting which enabled us to purchase dolls and bears for the next year. Many dolls had layers and layers of skirts, detailed topstitching, embroidery and hand smocking. Some came with handmade wooden furniture; a few were accompanied by a matching dress for the child. They were spectacular! It was fun to watch the members, then mostly men, carefully select which doll to bid on. At the meeting’s conclusion many gave me their doll back to take to Toyland.
Recently Mrs. Peggy Carroll, who was the Rotary Club secretary for years and had purchased dolls with an international theme, donated her collection back to the Army to be given to children through Toyland. Like new, her dolls brought back precious memories of the people who lovingly handmade the outfits, the Rotarians who were so generous, and the parents who painstakingly selected just the right one for their child. Though the program ended more than a decade ago, many people still ask about it and remember how much joy it brought to children and dressers alike.
Today, though this program has ceased, the tradition of bringing joy at Christmas continues. This holiday season, The Salvation Army in the Metro Omaha area will provide food and toys to over 20,000 people through four Toyland locations. More than 2,000 families will have Christmas delivered to their door through the Adopt-a-Family Radiothon, and nearly 3,200 children at 20 schools will enjoy fun Christmas assemblies presented by The Salvation Army.