BUHL • It’s Christmastime, and Olivia was the last to be placed in a foster home.
This week, a couple of gratified foster parents in the Magic Valley opened their arms, hearts and home to the smiling, clear-eyed adolescent.
And it’s a good bet that come Christmas Day, Olivia will also put a smile on the face of the couple’s other foster child, who may hug her new petite playmate with unabashed joy.
Olivia, incidentally, is a doll.
And she dresses quite stylishly; that’s what makes her especially charming.
Olivia — that was her name on the box she originally came in — is among 10 dolls offered at Christmas to Magic Valley foster parents through the Foster Kids Christmas Project of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.
For the past eight years, parishioners and friends of the Buhl church have donated the dolls to the Twin Falls-based Children & Family Services in the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. From there, department caseworkers distribute the dolls to foster families in the Magic Valley.
But’s that only part of the story.
Every year, half a dozen or so parishioners and friends of the church sew and crochet clothing for the dolls. Immaculate Conception parishioner Nancy Zimmerman, who has lived in Buhl for 13 years, is the “pushy old lady” who heads the project. She gets the ball rolling every year by purchasing the dolls and delivering them to Children & Family Services.
“I’ve already begun buying dolls for next year,” she said this week.
Zimmerman, 65, is quick to credit the two primary clothing wizards, the women she calls “chiefs.” They are Dolly Kulik of Buhl and Zimmerman’s aunt, Joy Poling of Monticello, Ill. Filer resident Lee McGovern is the “queen of crochet,” and other helpers include Lucy Fait of Buhl, Fay Oliver of Filer and Barbara Miller of Las Vegas.
“They take a lot of pride in what they do,” Zimmerman said. “They devote a good six months a year, darn near every day, to this project. It’s therapeutic and fulfilling for them.”
And the folks at Children & Family Services are thrilled to receive the donations, said Pam Harris, Region 5 child welfare chief of social work. The gorgeous, one-of-a-kind dolls benefit welfare employees, foster parents and foster children.
“There is a feeling of well-being for our caseworkers being able to share special gifts for the children,” Harris said. “And the dolls certainly benefit the foster parents by providing a resource for them to ensure the holidays are joyous for the children. And, of course, the ultimate benefits are to the children, themselves.”
Zimmerman purchases the 18-inch-tall Springfield-brand dolls throughout the year at a local discount store. She uses coupons for 40 percent off to significantly reduce their $22 price tags. The plastic dolls, which have eyes that open and close, moveable arms and legs and brushable hair, are just the right size for youngsters — and for chiefs, she said.
“The 18-inch size is good for the seamstresses to work with because they are pretty large,” she said. “You couldn’t pay them to work on Barbie dolls because they are too small.”
Imagine, for instance, constructing a backpack for a Barbie doll, and you’ll get the picture. That’s one of the many unusual items foster children find in the bag of clothing that accompanies each doll when it is delivered. They’ll also find coats, dresses, hats, shoes, camisoles, jeans, shorts and tops, ponchos, nightgowns, quilts and — of course — sleeping bags.
This Valley of the Dolls story began innocently one day about eight years ago. Zimmerman was at the Health and Welfare office delivering Immaculate Conception’s Christmas toys — parishioners collect them every year for foster children, in addition to the dolls —when a caseworker happened to show her a doll with fancy clothes.
“Then I thought: We have people who can sew. Why can’t we do this?” Zimmerman recalled.
So, the pushy old lady got her charm on, and soon the chiefs were getting the newly purchased dolls ready for the red carpet. Zimmerman applauds the efforts of everyone in her parish.
“The generosity of the people in my church is unbelievable,” she said. “And it just gets better every year.”
Though the doll project requires monumental effort, Zimmerman isn’t planning to slow down. She cherishes the dolls as much as anyone, she said.
“Just knowing that maybe Christmas Day, or even an hour of that day, we’re helping the kids be happy is a great joy for me,” she said. “Maybe some little girl will go to bed with that doll who will be her best friend forever.”