Wanda Courcelle ’72 and ’86 had been a teacher for nearly 40 years before retiring from Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden, Vermont in 2010. Having dedicated most of her life to educating young children, it’s no surprise that Courcelle soon began looking for other ways to connect with them.
Nine years ago, a friend and former colleague called Courcelle and told her about the Operation Dolls and More program, which collects toys, books, games, stuffed animals, and much more, restores them to like-new condition, and packages them to give to more than 2,000 children in Rutland County each year. Operations Dolls and More is organized by RSVP, an organization dedicated to getting people involved with volunteering, and Trinity Church of Rutland, Vermont.
In the beginning, Courcelle volunteered once a month. Now, she spends nearly six hours every Tuesday in the basement of Trinity Church, working alongside a group of others to sort and organize the donations. She spends the other six days a week washing and sewing products that are in need of TLC, drying stuffed animals on the clothesline in the summer and in front of the woodstove during the colder months.
“I needed that kid connection,” she said. “Here, I’m working on stuffed animals – which I love – and I’m sorting books, something near and dear to my heart.”
The group works hard all year to prepare for their big event in November, when they welcome nearly 50 community agencies to collect themed packages for children of all ages. Each package includes several books, toys, blankets, and stuffed animals. Agencies can then distribute the packages to families in need, reducing the stress that many experience during the holiday season. Courcelle estimates that more than 20,000 items were distributed last year.
Operation Dolls and More recently expanded to incorporate more consistent, monthly giving. Each month, Courcelle brings baskets to the Rutland Community Cupboard. Operation Dolls and More delivered 65 Valentine’s Day-themed packages to the Community Cupboard in February.
“I thought, ‘We can never get rid of it all in November and December for our event,’” she said. “When people think of the Community Cupboard, they think food, but to see the look on people’s faces when they realize they can also get a birthday gift for their kids is just so great.”