Lorraine Hellmann’s Labadie home is full of dolls.
Her first great-grandchild just turned 3 months old and her children and even grandchildren are well into their adult years so it may seem puzzling for the 76 year old to have buckets full of old, but fair Cabbage Patch, classic Mattel and trademark baby dolls.
But, they do, in fact, have purpose.
Hellman restores the dolls, found at garage and yard sales, to fair condition to be donated to children in Honduras through the Washington Overseas Mission.
She said about five years ago her daughter, Donna Swoboda, made her aware of the missions work and the groups lesser known needs.
The registered non-profit is known for providing organized medical and dental services to citizens in the impoverished nation of Honduras and has a number of events to collect funds and donations for its work.
But its mission, in the most broad sense, is to improve the health and quality of life of the people of Honduras, demonstrate the discrepancy between the “haves” and the “have nots” and motivate people to bring greater balance to the world.
At the time Hellmann had been collecting old toys. Having raised five children — four girls and one boy — dolls piled up.
She thought of her doll situation and figured they could make playthings for the children in Honduras.
About two years ago Hellmann made cleaning and clothing the secondhand dolls an on-again-off-again project.
One room in her house is full of dolls in need of work. Another is full of finished dolls.
She said she is fortunate, healthy and glad to be doing something to help others.
She’s learned little things about the Honduran culture from the doctors who travel on the mission trips, too.
Her physician, Dr. Craig Holzem, returned from a trip and told Hellmann that one of the little girls who visited the doctor’s office walked in clutching her doll.
“It almost makes you want to cry,” she said. “We (Americans) have everything.”
Similarly, when she recently spoke with Dr. Jackie Miller, a founding member and vice president of the overseas mission board, Miller told her that children like to dress up when they go to see the doctor.
Over the winter she said she plans to make shorts and dresses for children up to age 12 in addition to restoring dolls.
“I had four daughters and money was tight so I got into the sewing situation,” the lifelong Franklin County resident said.
She sewed outfits for her grandchildren as well as for dolls that were missing tops, bottoms or clothes all together.
“I just don’t think anybody would like a doll that was naked,” she said.
Helmann’s recent donation totalled 32 restored dolls and they were to be taken by Miller and others on a holiday trip to Honduras Dec. 1.
Hellmann estimates she still has 70 to 80 dolls in need of restoration at her home.
“Almost 100 percent” of the dolls are garage sale finds, picked up for 50 cents or a quarter, Hellmann explained.
She cleans each with dry shampoo, untangles the hair and makes them a nice outfit but she said she’s never kept track of the average time it takes for her to restore a doll.
“I work on one a couple hours, and I may end up working on one a couple weeks,” she said, “You do it and then do other stuff.
“I hate to give them away, sometimes they’re so cute,” she confessed.
As far as visiting Honduras someday to see the impact her projects have on children, Hellmann suspects the journey would be too emotional.
“I think my heart would break,” she said. “It must be a sad spot.”
Also, Hellmann’s never flown anywhere.
“I don’t go on airplanes — never have and never will,” Hellmann said.