Linda Woods remembers the year she received a doll for Christmas. She was six years old and living in poverty with her family in Montreal. Today, she is harnessing the power of dolls to advocate on behalf of the estimated 1.3 million Canadian children currently living below the poverty line.
On Nov. 21, Woods and Laurel Kenney — co-chairs of the London and Middlesex Bread Not Stones project of The United Church of Canada — brought 360 Dolls of Hope to Parliament Hill.
Handmade by United Church people in congregations across the country, the rag dolls were distributed to all members of Parliament and several senators as part of a daylong event organized in recognition of the United Nations’ Universal Children’s Day.
Each doll came with a certificate describing what is needed to end child poverty: affordable housing, nutritious meals, affordable child care and a living wage.
The trip to Parliament Hill came just a year after the London and Middlesex Bread Not Stones project delivered 107 Dolls of Hope to the Ontario legislature. “These dolls touch hearts and speak volumes,” Woods says. “They are a very powerful symbol and make a huge impact wherever we go.”
The rag dolls were the brainchild of Calgary United Church member Carolyn Pogue and grew out of the Child Wellbeing Initiative, launched in 2006 by United Church Women’s groups in Alberta and Northwest Conference.
In London, Ont., Woods and Kenney have spoken to more than 70 groups about the issue of child poverty since 2015. Their home churches of Wesley-Knox United and First-St. Andrew’s United have hosted several doll-making workshops led by seamstress Ann Stokes, who has personally made more than 300 Dolls of Hope. “The dolls speak for themselves,” says Stokes. “People pick them up, and we’ve sparked their interest.”
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