Shawnee seniors carve and decorate doll cradles for children in need
On Christmas morning, dozens of excited children across Johnson County will wake up to find a pastel-colored handmade doll cradle underneath the tree. Snuggled in the cradle will be a baby doll and a bottle.
Those cradles were built with the hands and hearts of several Shawnee residents living at Village Cooperative, a senior housing community situated on Johnson Drive, between Quivira and Pflumm roads.
After spending four months designing, constructing and painting 40 doll cradles, the community is donating them to the Johnson County Christmas Bureau, which serves low-income families during the holiday season.
The kind-hearted gesture actually stemmed from a random moment.
Earlier this year, Village Cooperative resident Jeannine Binder met JCCB volunteer Karen Boyd at a church function. While chatting, Boyd mentioned her organization was looking for handmade doll cradle donations.
Several craftsmen reside at Village Cooperative of Shawnee, which features a woodshop.
When Binder brought the doll cradle idea to some of her neighbors with carpentry skills, they didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Although Village Cooperative resident Bob Carlson had never made a doll cradle before, he created a pattern and with help from his friend, Terry Dockter, the two got to work.
They agreed the process was fun.
“Once I got started, I enjoyed it,” Carlson said. “It gave me something to look forward to each day.”
Another resident painted and decorated the cradles.
Members of the Village Cooperative crafts committee sewed the blankets and mattresses. They also bought dolls using donations from Village Cooperative residents.
“The people here are all pretty generous,” Dockter told the Dispatch.
Pat Bertsche, chair of the craft committee, agreed Village Cooperative of Shawnee is a special place.
“The residents here are like an extended family,” she said. “Everyone looks out for each other and they offer to help whenever it’s needed. It has a small town atmosphere.”
The community, which features around 100 residents, has a couple other holiday projects up its sleeves.
In 2016, they started an annual tradition of knitting hats for young patients at Children’s Mercy. Last year, they made 100 red felt Christmas stockings for hospice patients.
Later this month, they will drop off the cradles to JCCB for its annual holiday shop.
In addition to toys, the shop gives out clothing, coats, personal care items, gifts and food to clients, who are Johnson County residents with a family income below 150 percent of the poverty line.
The bureau helps between 10,000 and 12,00 low income Johnson County residents during the winter holiday season. A majority of the people it serves are women and children.
Boyd, the toy department chair for JCCB, told the Dispatch doll cradles are a highly popular item each year. She’s touched by the Village Cooperative residents’ donation.
She said wooden doll cradles are an ideal gift because they are a high quality product that will last for years.
“It makes you feel good to offer something handmade with love,” Boyd said. “It’s a gift that a child can keep for years or even pass down to their own children one day.”
It’s fitting that Village Cooperative of Shawnee donated the beloved Christmas gift items, because Shawnee is the second largest area served by JCCB each year; Olathe is the first.
Although Johnson County is one of the richest counties in the nation, it is also the home to people in need.
Families walking through the shop’s doors have different stories behind their struggle, whether its an unexpected illness in the family or the head-of-household was laid off.
Many of the people who need the organization’s help are the working poor—moms and dads who have jobs but don’t earn enough to climb out of the depths of poverty.
Fortunately, many clients get back on their feet eventually.
Boyd loves when she runs into former JCCB clients who have a happy story to tell.
“I’ll be at Walmart and the clerk will say ‘your organization helped me—thank you’ and it makes you feel good knowing they’re in a better place now and it was all worthwhile,” she said. “We’re really helping our neighbors, our people next to us.”
She said JCCB is always looking for handmade gift items.
Anyone interested in donating items is encouraged to visit jccb.org.
The 2018 JCCB holiday shop will take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 8 at the former Sears store near 95th and Metcalf in Overland Park.
Village Cooperative residents hope their cradles will bring happiness to some young children this year.
“These cradles are treasured,” Carlson said. “We really do hope they get passed down generation to generation.”