By Kati Cowan, American Red Cross volunteer
Heroes come in all forms, shapes and sizes. There are those who go to war or are away on a military operation, leaving loved ones behind. There are the military spouses, family members and small children who stay at home enduring the long absence of a cherished mom or dad away on deployment. They too are heroes. And there are the superheroes who comfort these grieving children. “Hug-a-Hero” or “Daddy Dolls” and "Mommy Dolls" are such superheroes. These dolls, made in the image of the deployed service member, are magical. They soothe, calm and console the children of deployed military service members.
The American Red Cross, always faithful to their foundation of offering hope and help to military members and their families, has coupled with Daddy Dolls, Inc. to help distribute dolls to children of deploying service members. Thanks to the generosity of donors who specifically direct their donations and support toward the Hug-a-Hero program, the Red Cross can purchase and gift these dolls to help the children of deploying parents cope with their absence.
On March 9, 2020, military spouses were elated to provide a source of comfort to their children as they came to the Red Cross headquarters to pick up these twelve-inch-tall facsimiles of the deployed parent. Children’s faces lit up as they recognized the likeness of their dad and held them close.
Several moms said that they valued the dolls because it helped the babies and younger toddlers to remember who their dad is and recognize him when he gets home, making that transition easier for both the child and the father. Dads worry about this very thing and take it upon themselves to order the dolls for their son or daughter.
“This was a surprise. My husband did not tell me,” said Mary Grace Shaw, beaming as she talked about receiving her doll. It was not only for her, but mainly for her three-month-old son Elijah. Mary Grace serves as the ombudsman for the USS Bunker Hill providing support for other parents in her position and serves as an intermediary between the spouses and the military command on board the ship.
Angela Hirth, another military spouse, has done this before. “My daughter had one [Hug-a-Hero doll] when she was a little baby and she loved it. It helped her recognize her dad when he got back. They are so young, and you don’t want them to forget,” she said. Her daughter Kaylee is now eight years old and her son Cash is two and a half. This doll will be shared by them both.
Megan Covey felt the same way. She is doing what she can to keep her husband in the forefront of her one-year-old son Michael’s mind so he will know him when he returns.
For four-year-old Tahiry Andrews, this is her second doll. It had been well used. “I hug my Daddy Doll at nighttime,” she said. She had been crying a lot in preschool so her mother Zhane Andrews talked to her teacher and gained permission to let her bring the doll to school to provide a hug when she needed reassurance.
Post-toddler age children seem to have the most difficulty with a parent being gone. For this reason alone, the dolls are incredibly valuable. They alleviate suffering. That is what the Red Cross strives to do best.
“This deployment is tougher than the one last time,” said Anissa Gallego as she looked toward her four-year-old daughter Estella with concern. “She was younger then and not as affected as this time around. She has a good bond with her dad. With this, a piece of him is here with her.” Estella hugged her Daddy Doll with joy as tears welled up in her eyes. It was heartwarming to see.
For more on how the Red Cross supports our military and veterans, please visit redcross.org/military.