Closing American Girl Store Donates Dolls & More to Ronald McDonald House; Results in Afternoon Tea for Guest Families

By Rick Shepherd, Communications Manager, RMHC of Central OH

2014 Daisy Dash at Easton

People would come from all over to visit Ohio’s only American Girl store after it opened in Easton ten years ago. It was one of only a dozen in the country.  Families that would stay at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House from other parts of Ohio or out of state would sometimes make it a point to visit the store when their child had to Columbus for medical care. Right from the start, the local store and Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio began a perfect partnership, including the store’s sponsorship of the Daisy Dash, a race at Easton with mothers and daughters that was supported by McDonald’s restaurants with proceeds benefiting RMHC. At one point, the collectible dolls were donated to the House so children staying in the House could play dress up with them in the House Princess Room.

Unfortunately, Mattel, which owns the American Girl brand and the stores, made the tough decision to close the Columbus store last month. Eight stores now remain which include North Carolina, Illinois, Texas, California, Tennessee, New York, Florida, Washington, D.C., and Canada.

“The team at American Girl Easton wanted to make sure that the closure of their location would leave a positive impact on those in need,” said Jordan Colvin, an intern with the development team at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio who organized the pick-up of the donation. Management of the store reached out to RMHC of Central Ohio about possibly accepting as many dolls, doll apparel, and doll house items left in the store as possible. Jordan said hours were spent by staff and volunteers meticulously sorting, packing, and loading donations destined for the House after the offer had been accepted. The donation even included fixtures like tables and chairs from the store’s café. Two trips had to be made to the store by two vans and a pick-up truck. It was one of the most generous offers RMHC of Central Ohio had ever been given by a retail establishment.

Jordan pointed out that once items came rolling into the House, a volunteer working at the House “immediately understood the profound joy these contributions could bring to the children staying at the House.”  It was decided to celebrate the donation by having an “afternoon tea” with the children staying in the House and having a styling session with the dolls during the event. Members of the chapter’s development team wanted to be involved directly, volunteering as stylists for the children adopting new friends at this in-house family activity.

Afternoon Tea

The centuries-old British tradition started in the Edwardian period when ladies would meet at a hotel in the afternoons for an afternoon of leisure and gossip over a selection of little treats and a spot of tea.

“Families were not only gifted with cherished companions, but they also had the opportunity to play, interact, and style their gifted dolls,” Jordan explained. The RMHC Development team brought the cookies and juice as tea and helped with the styling. The children or parents could make friendship bracelets for themselves and their dolls. “For our staff, it was a chance to dive deeper into the mission and make memorable connections with our families,” Cat continued. “For the team from American Girl, it was a chance to witness the immediate impact of their generosity. For the children, it was a welcomed reprieve from the trials of their families’ medical journeys.”

Events Director Caitlin Wolcott helps a guest with making a bracelet during the American Gril afternoon tea at the House.

The families here at RMHC of Central Ohio are always excited to take part in an activity, and the American Girl experience was no different. “As we set up the dolls for our families to pick out, you could see all eyes in the house light up,” said events manager Catherine De La Paz. “The excitement grew as kids and families alike realized these dolls were there for them to pick out, interact with, and hold close as they go through their daily medical journey.”

Cat, as she’s known in the House, described how the event looked. “The day of the style event, all the children that picked out their doll the night before, proudly carried them close the entire day – whether taking a quick trip to the dining room for breakfast or heading to an appointment at the Hospital, their dolls kept them company.” We had multiple families that never connected before, met each other during this event, and kids became fast friends,” Cat said. “One of the best parts was being able to see the relief in the parent’s eyes as they watched their children step away from the day-to-day difficulties they face and instead find joy together, she added.

What happens with the rest of the donations is yet to be decided, said events director Caitlin Wolcott. ”We’re evaluating how many we have left and the best use for those dolls. Some might be placed in different playrooms in the House, or some may be saved for a future party organized by our family activities manager.” Some may even help raise funds through event auctions, she added.