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Saddleback Kiwanis sews happiness for Hurricane Harvey's youngest victims - OCRegister

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A contingent of Orange County volunteers flew into Houston last weekend to help with medical and non-medical care for the people who are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Included in their gear were medical supplies, personal items for care packages and a surprise for Harvey’s youngest victims — a giant bag of handmade dolls.

The dolls — called Healing Buddies — were made by volunteers from the Saddleback Kiwanis Foundation, which provides the 15-inch featureless dolls to children throughout the world who are dealing with trauma.

The humanitarian mission was undertaken by TongueOut – a nonprofit organization based in Fountain Valley that provides children around the world with medical care.

It was a busy weekend for TongueOut’s founder, Irvine-based Dr. Dung Trinh, who flew to Houston on the evening of Friday, Sept. 8 with his crew of 43 volunteers, including doctors, nurses, EMT, respiratory therapists, a pharmacist, pre-med students, TongueOut Youth Ambassadors, a chaplain, and four Boy Scouts.

In addition to providing medical care and helping clean homes, Trinh said that volunteers were able to provide the dolls, which gave children comfort and something to smile about.

“The kids love (the dolls),” Trinh said.

Dottie Jeffries, who spearheads the dollmaking workshop in Laguna Woods, said they make Healing Buddies year-round for children in need.

“To me it’s an outlet of caring and showing compassion to those that are going through a crisis.” Jeffries, 77, said.

Restoring hope

Prior to returning to LAX on Monday, Sept. 11, at 7:30 a.m., Trinh’s team of volunteers set up a temporary clinic in a Houston church and made door-to-door house calls.

“We did some wound care, lots of cuts, bruises and scrapes — mostly superficial stuff — that needed first aid,” Trinh said, adding he was relieved that most of the people he cared for did not have critical injuries.

“We did a lot of mucking — moving the debris and damage in the homes — on multiple homes where we helped to basically take out carpet, dry walls filled with mold, a lot of cleaning, and listening to multiple stories of folks who lived there.”

Having announced the Houston trip one week before leaving, Trinh said his team of volunteers jumped on the opportunity to help, paying their own travel expenses and taking off work with short notice.

Volunteer Micah Scott, a junior at Pacifica High School in Garden Grove, handed out care packages door to door, helped nurses with care and cleaned up debris.

“It’s crazy to think that even though they had everything taken from them, the people in Houston have high spirits,” Scott, 17, said. “It just goes to show you things like this can have a positive outcome.”

Trinh echoed Scott’s experience, adding that going to Houston restored his “hope of humanity.”

“The folks there are very resilient,” he said. “They lost everything, but they certainly haven’t lost hope. They were happy we were there; a lot of them offered us things — cookies or cake — there was a lot of community, a lot of love and everybody pitched in.”

Dolls to help Irma victims

With some 20 Kiwanis members who meet weekly at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, the group has made nearly 1,000 Healing Buddies this year that go to third-world countries, hospitals and other organizations that encounter children with trauma.

Jeffries said volunteers have already begun sewing dolls to distribute to victims of Hurricane Irma.

With the assembly-line style of work with individuals stenciling, cutting, stuffing and sewing, the most important part of the dollmaking is putting care into them, Jeffries said.

“It’s an opportunity to help children, it’s an opportunity to let them know that someone cares for them,” said Sandy Verrall, a dollmaker. “It also gives the children an opportunity to express themselves in what they’re doing.”

The stuffed dolls are made featureless — despite small, knitted beanies or hats — so that the children can create their own doll, or more importantly, to help doctors understand what is wrong with them, Jeffries said.

“We put Sharpies in the package so the kids can individualize it; they get autographs often of their doctors or nurses who are working with them,” Jeffries said.

“It’s also an outlet of expression so they can express their fear, as is happening in Texas right now. They can also mark where they are hurting or have an injury so medical personnel knows where to help them, because sometimes they don’t know the different parts of their body but they can always point to it.”

Having handed out the Healing Buddies in other trips across the country and the world, Trinh said the dolls add a personal touch when providing care in Vietnam, Haiti, Peru and other areas.

“We just want to make a difference with these dolls to children around the world and we have made a difference just based on the faces and the smiles they get from these dolls,” he said.

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