For the last 10 years, schoolteacher Winifred Dickson of Silver Spring has spent much of her spare time washing hair, sewing clothes and scrubbing faces, but her other "children" are the hundreds of dolls she repairs to give to needy children during Christmas and Hanukah.
On Sunday, Dickson's energies will bring smiles to young faces again when more than 1,000 toys and dolls are distributed to about 700 needy families in Montgomery County.
"We don't impose any requirements to receive the clothes or toys," said Donald Dickson, her husband and coordinating secretary of the Colesville Council of Community Congregations, an interfaith group of 15 churches and one synagogue that distributes the toys. "We assume that someone who feels the need to ask must have a need."
So, from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow, clothing and two toys per child will be given to more than 700 families that use the council-run Clothes Closet, a clothing distribution center, and its Toy Closet, at the old Colesville Elementary School at 14015 New Hampshire Ave.
The Clothes Closet was started 23 years ago and it is operated entirely by volunteers. Two rooms in the school are provided free to the group by the county.
Toy Closet is the name of the Clothes Closet's 10-year-old toy distribution program. "It got started when people would come in for clothing around Christmas and ask if we had any toys," said Winifred Dickson, who teaches the fifth grade at Garrett Park Elementary School.
"When we started, the toys we had were pretty awful . . . . So we just decided to tell people we were collecting toys and that we would fix them up," she added.
The annual toy drive has grown each year. This year the collection will include about 140 dolls dressed in handmade clothes, nearly 120 new footballs, basketballs and soccer balls, as well as hundreds of other toys and games.
Coordinating the doll project keeps Winifred Dickson busy throughout the year, and the dolls fill an entire bedroom at her Silver Spring home.
The toy distribution project has also grown into a true community effort. The council donates $250 annually to the project. Other funds, about $1,500 this year, come from area churches, Lions Clubs, the Colesville branch of Suburban Bank, and Merrill Lynch Realty in Colesville.
"Burtonsville Cycle Touring Shop repairs all the bicycles we get at no cost," explained Donald Dickson, a retired public information specialist who worked for the Department of Agriculture for 23 years.
As early as January, women from the member congregations begin sewing clothes for dolls and shampooing the dolls' hair and scrubbing them. "Two senior citizen groups have made the doll-clothing program their pet projects," said Winifred Dickson.
Member congregations of the council are [Catholic] Church of the Resurrection, Colesville Baptist, Colesville United Methodist, Colesville United Presbyterian, Epiphany Lutheran, Good Hope Union United Methodist, Heritage Christian, Liberty Grove United Methodist, Our Savior Episcopal, Round Oak Baptist, St. John the Baptist Catholic, St. Mark's Episcopal, St. Stephen Lutheran, Transfiguration Episcopal and Unitarian Universalist churches and Shaare Tefila Congregation.
Sumner Clarren, president of the council, says the group is important "because it gives members of those 16 congregations ways to serve the community."
"When Shaare Tefila was desecrated [about two years ago] with Nazi signs, all the other council congregations attended a service there and helped clean up the synagogue," said Donald Dickson.
"For those of us who work at the Toy Closet, we get a great deal from it personally," Clarren said. "For most of us, supporting something means sending money. It isn't often that you can take a mother around and talk to her about her children . . . help her pick out toys for them and see her excitement."
Dickson said she recalled the year she had a very large doll that she was saving for "the right person."
Then, she said, a young couple came into the Toy Closet. "You could tell they were real poor, so I gave them the doll for their little girl . . . . They were so excited."
Dickson said she is touched by the people who come to the Toy Closet each year. "Their lives are pretty drab and if you can do anything to make it better for them, like that big doll, well, I guess you do feel like you're playing Santa Claus."