When the refugee crisis first started, Cedar Hills resident Sarah Parson said she couldn’t get the refugees and the struggles they were facing out of her mind.

It was a topic that weighed heavily on her, and ultimately led her to start Dolls of Hope, which makes bears and dolls for refugee children in Greece.

“We can all do things to help,” Parson said. “We don’t all need to go to Greece and we don’t all need to help with the refugee crisis even. As long as we are doing what we can to help other people and looking outside our own little world.”

Parson started Dolls of Hope about a year ago and she has spread the word about the organization through social media and word of mouth.

She said each doll and bear provides strength and love to the children who receive them that has been stitched into each one by the people who made them.

“There’s something special about people making something for someone else or touching something that you know is going to bring comfort to someone else,” Parson said. “I always say you put your love into it, and make your dolls and your bears as cute as you can because these little kids, that’s all they have.”

The process for making each bear or doll is relatively simple, especially for those who already know how to sew. Parson provides patterns that she has made through her Facebook page or by special request.

When they are done, Parson will pick them up if they are from a nearby volunteer or people can mail the items to her. Then she will either give them to people she knows are going to a refugee camp, send them to an organization that helps or send them directly to Greece.

Parson said the idea for Dolls of Hope came out of a need to help. She started thinking about how to help the refugees and at first she started by gathering items to send with someone she knew who was going to a refugee camp in Greece to help.

“I just couldn’t get it out of my heart,” she said. “I would do things to support organizations in Greece and overseas, but no matter what I did it just didn’t feel like it was enough and I felt like I just needed to do more.”

Parson started asking the woman she’d gathered items for about how to best help. That’s when the woman shared her idea for Project Hope 4 Kids, which helps with education, arts and crafts for kids, and helps women.

Parson said she then started thinking about the things the kids in the refugee camps were playing with — wood, rusty nails and scorpions.

“I had all my kids with me in the car and I was thinking about these kids,” she said. “They have no toys to play with and they have nothing to comfort them. I had made some dolls for my first daughter and I thought I can make dolls for these kids and I bet I can find other people who would help me.”

So she started making dolls and collecting Matchbox cars before shifting toward the bears. She’s also partnered with Carry the Future, which gives refugee families baby carriers and beds with supplies, and started helping other organizations like Lifting Hands International.

Last year Dolls of Hope sent more than 600 bears or dolls, and this year it has already surpassed that number.

“I just feel like I just can’t not do it,” Parson said. “I just feel like it has called to me and these kids are in my heart. I have to help.”

Parson said that while her life is busy, making the dolls and bears has helped put things in perspective.

“My life is crazy, but I feel like doing this helps me because I’m focused on these kids instead of being focused on how my life is overwhelming,” she said. “Because comparatively my struggles are nothing.

“Every single night I lay in my warm bed and I think about these families who are trapped and they lived in tents and they are susceptible to the heat and the cold and the bugs. They don’t have clean water.”

Parson’s grandmother was in the Holocaust and was taken from her family when she was 14. She was liberated when she was 18, but none of her family survived. Parson said her grandmother’s experiences have made her feel more connected to the refugees.

“I haven’t met one Syrian person in my life, but I feel like they are my people,” she said. “I feel such a kinship who are feeling violence through no fault of their own because that’s what my grandmother went through. I wish her family had been able to get out.”

Cedar Hills resident Jennie White said she decided to start making dolls and bears for Dolls of Hope because she knew it was something she could do.

“Part of it is I feel a need to participate in some way with the difficulties that are going on around the world, and in doing this I’ve also included grandchildren in helping to stuff (the bears) and it’s been fun to see their willingness and excitement to help,” White said.

Orem resident Shelley Reid recently returned from a trip to the Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece, and she took some bears and dolls with her to donate.

Reid said she felt like it was a privilege to be able to take those items with her and she ended up leaving them at the camp’s warehouse so families could pick up the toys as needed.

She said the kids there really appreciate the toys they receive because it shows them how much others care about them.

“The kids spend a lot of time together and when adults go and spend time with them it means so much to them,” Reid said. “Then to be able to have a toy they can carry around that’s their own, is brand new that they can take it, sleep with it and have something that is just uniquely theirs, it’s amazing to see their sweet little faces as they look through these dolls and bears.”

Shelby Slade covers community events, issues and stories for the Daily Herald.

Shelby Slade is a reporter for the Daily Herald who covers crime and the southern part of Utah County.

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