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    Posted December 6, 2012 by
    Fort Lee, Virginia
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Christmas where you live

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    87-year-old continues doll-making holiday tradition at Fort Lee


    Lorraine Hoover holds a few of the dolls she's made over the last year for the Holiday Helper Toy Store at Fort Lee.


    By Susan Garling


    FORT LEE, Va. -- Forget the gray beard, red suit and reindeer … Fort Lee has its own version of Santa Claus, and her name is Lorraine Hoover, the 87-year-old spouse of a former Marine and post worker, who has brought smiles to the faces of military children here for the past 20 years.


    Just before Thanksgiving, Hoover made her latest delivery of 36 handmade dolls and stuffed animals. The fun and playful collection includes a clown with brightly colored hair and clothing, a female character in a bright red dress and a yellow cat with stitched whiskers and bright green eyes. The craftsmanship speaks volumes about the care and love that Hoover placed into each creation.


    As the dolls took their place among the assortment of play things at the Holiday Helper Toy Store -- where military members will have a chance to shop for free starting Tuesday -- Hoover returned to her "workshop" and, a couple of days later, she began cutting out a doll dress for next year's collection.


    "It gives me something to do," said Hoover with a bit of a playful tone. "I have been a seamstress since I was a young girl, and I wanted to do something different (to show her support for the military community). My husband suggested that I make animals."


    And so, back in 1993, this time-honored tradition began.


    "In the beginning, it was a partnership -- my husband and I worked together. He was an artist and would paint the faces on each animal," Hoover recalled. "During World War II, he was with the Marines. After that, he (went to work for the) Army and was at Fort Lee until he retired. He painted a variety of signs for Fort Lee at that time."


    Mrs. Hoover has resided in the Fort Lee area since the mid-1950s. That too is a big reason why she said she feels closely connected to the military community.


    Talking about her whimsical creations like the cat that made its debut in this year's collection, Hoover said she finds inspiration for patterns from many different sources. The cat, for example, was patterned after a door stop that was sent to her by a friend.


    Each of Hoover's creations takes approximately 20 to 22 hours to complete. When she finishes a project, the doll is added to a shelf in one of the rooms in her home and, over time, the collection is said to be a sight that's worthy of admiration. That is until Thanksgiving week when she makes her annual toy run to Fort Lee. "(Now), my room is so empty," she said.


    Hoover's daughter Vicki Quick, a former Fort Lee garrison employee, isn't surprised that her mother has continued this tradition for the past two decades. "My mother has always sewn," she said. "She made clothes for her children, made sports coats for men and formal gowns for special occasions. The toy project was something that she and daddy could work together."


    The final twist to Hoover's story is noteworthy as well. Each year, just before she donates her dolls to the Holiday Helper Program, she loads them into her car and takes them to Memorial Chapel on Fort Lee to have them blessed. To date, more than 600 of her creations have been consecrated.


    "I just felt that one additional step was the right thing to do," Hoover explained. "After all, it's for the children."


    The project's "other blessing," according to the coordinators of the Holiday Helper Program here, is the talent and kindness that have brought joy to so many children at Fort Lee.


    "We are so fortunate to have neighbors like Mrs. Hoover," said Wayne Hall, president of the HHA. "She has a love for children that is evident, and she goes out of her way to put smiles on their faces. It is moving when you see her dedication and experience the drive and passion that keeps her motivated year after year to complete this project. And the joy it brings to our military Families every holiday season is something special. It's a great story of community support."


    Junior-ranking military members who have been nominated by their unit leaders to receive support through Holiday Helper will have an opportunity to shop at the store on Tuesday and Wednesday. The handmade and blessed dolls and stuffed animals created by Hoover will be among the available toys while the supply lasts.


    All nominees will receive three toys per child, hats and mittens, stocking stuffers, books and puzzles, a live tree if needed and free gift wrapping. A limited number of bikes are also donated annually and each unit commander is allowed to select a military recipient based on need.


    For more information about Holiday Helper, including ways you can help the program, contact one of the non-profit organization's board members at (804) 614-8006 or 305-7599.

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