When Sarah Parson’s friend told her about the children caught in the middle of the refugee crisis in Greece in 2015, she knew she had to do something to help.
"She had mentioned that the kids in the camps had no toys to play with, so they were playing with garbage and scorpions," said Parson, 42. “Just anything that they could find.”
With five kids of her own, she knew all too well how much toys meant to her children.
“They just love their stuffed animals,” she said. “They have so many of them. They carry them around everywhere.”
Parson said she had a sudden realization while watching her kids play with their toys that she could make handmade dolls and bears for children in need. Having previously made dolls for her girls, she knew she could make more.
From there, Dolls of Hope was born. Just two years later, she has sent more than 10,000 stuffed toys to children in 23 countries.
"There’s just something really special about making something for someone knowing it’s going to give them comfort," said Parson. "And you put your heart into it and I really feel like the kids can feel that."
In her most recent shipment, she sent more than 1,200 toys to migrant children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border and placed in foster care.
The dolls were included in a bag full of gifts provided by Comfort Cases, with the goal of helping ease the transition for children entering foster care.
Parson lives with her children and husband in Cedar Hills, Utah, but she said the stories from the border hit close to home.
“I look at my own kids and I think, ‘How would my kids handle that if they were suddenly taken away from me?’” she said.
Parson hopes her dolls make the kids feel like kids again.
"My hope is we are giving a little piece of their childhood back," said Parson. "That they can find comfort in that stuffed animal, or that doll. And that they can love that doll and hug that doll, even though they can’t hug their parents."
Parson said she made the doll patterns simple so that anyone, even children, could get involved. Each and every doll is unique, “just like the kids who get them,” she said.
Parson thinks no problem is too big to run away from, and even the smallest efforts can lead to a big change.
“While it may seem overwhelming or we think the problem is too big, we could never solve the problem,” said Parson. “We can’t let that immobilize us to doing nothing because that doesn’t help. So we have to start where we are, doing what we can.”
Parson said she isn’t quitting anytime soon. “Too many children need us,” she said.