published Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Chattanooga woman donates 200 dolls to program for abused children

Wanda Bankston looks through some of the 200 baby dolls Carolyn Cain donated to T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital on Monday.
Wanda Bankston looks through some of the 200 baby dolls Carolyn Cain donated to T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital on Monday.
Photo by Patrick Smith.
HOW TO DONATE

Anyone wishing to donate a doll, teddy bear, or other stuffed toy to the Children's Advocacy Center is asked to contact the Children's Advocacy Center at 423-266-6918.

The sight may have been alarming for a child: Hundreds of dolls loaded onto gurneys and wheeled into the emergency room.

As boxes of dolls were hauled in through the doors of T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital at Erlanger on Monday afternoon, kids leaving the hospital watched wide-eyed. One worried-looking girl tugged her mother's sleeve and pointed.

But the dolls weren't sick. They had arrived to heal.


The story of healing starts with the dolls' own recovery.

Carol Cain, of East Brainerd, was looking for a way to comfort her elderly mother, Leola Campbell -- who was battling depression after her husband's death.

They began restoring battered old dolls Cain found at thrift stores.

"They were little toss-aways we tried to bring back to life," she said.

She scrubbed their skin and polished their eyes. She washed or replaced their hair. She spruced up old baby clothes. Before long, 200 dolls filled the house.

Her mother loved them. There was one green-eyed doll she especially loved to cradle.

"She had her good sense till the end. But I think the dolls took her back to being a young mother," explains Cain. "It was so special to me, to see how deeply she cherished her little ones."


The staff members at the Children's Advocacy Center of Hamilton County know all about the healing power of dolls.

The nonprofit helps children and teens brought in as victims of abuse, giving medical exams, interviews and counseling in a kid-friendly setting.

  • photo
    Carol Cain, left, hugs Dr. AnnaMaria Church after presenting a donation of 200 baby dolls to T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital on Monday. The dolls, which Carol had collected for years, will be given to children who are examined as victims of child abuse.
    Photo by Patrick Smith /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The center keeps a shelf of dolls and other stuffed animals as "comfort objects" to give children when they leave.

"For the children to have something they can hold and hug after it's all over -- it can have a very positive influence that lasts beyond the clinic," said Erlanger pediatrician Dr. AnnaMaria Church, who performs exams and is on the center's board.

Emotions are always high when the child comes in, said Shelley McGraw, executive director of the center. Choosing the toy is always a happy moment.

"They are children from every socioeconomic background. Some don't have much, and so this is special," she said.

"Even older children want to pick out a doll or teddy bear," adds family advocate Maxine Turner.

The center is always in need of toys because there are always children who need help. The agency saw 563 children last year -- a record.


When Campbell died in 2009, her family buried the little green-eyed doll with her. The rest of the dolls crowded Cain's living room.

"They represented a last year of precious time with my mother," said Cain, now 69, "But I thought -- there's so many children who could love a doll."

This spring, she decided to honor her mother's memory by finding them a new home. She told her story to the Times Free Press, which ran an article on Cain's wish in the East Hamilton Community News.

Sofie Field, an interpreter at Children's Hospital, saw the piece and thought of the CAC's constant need for toys.

"This lady's appeal seemed like such a sweet thing to do," Field said. "She had taken care of them for so long."

Field notified Church, who emailed Cain and asked her to consider donating as many dolls as she could.

Cain prayed about it, and contacted Church shortly after. She would donate them all.

"I know how much little kids can relate to a toy or a doll," Cain said. "I know they can even find healing that way."


Members of Cain's family unloaded two truckloads of dolls when they arrived at Erlanger.

Turner took in the sight, shaking her head and smiling as she and Cain embraced.

"These will go fast," Turner said. "We just had some girls this morning who would have loved having a doll like this."

When Cain returned home Monday afternoon, the house felt empty.

"It's hard. But it's a blessing to think they're going to a worthy cause," Cain said. "If they need more, I can always find one to work on."

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