After a career working in the banking industry on New York’s Long Island, Louise Nervik was enjoying her retirement in South Florida and keeping busy working with her hands in her quilting groups.
She found a new mission in life in 2013 while attending a quilting club meeting and seeing “pillow pal dolls” made by volunteers. “This is something I can do,” she recalled thinking.
With the assistance of her now late husband Roy, Nervik made 20 of the combination pillow with a doll face during that first partial year.
“I’ve always loved working with crafts,” said Nervik, a resident of suburban Lake Worth. “My husband used to do all the cutting for me. He was a retired carpenter, and Roy was a tremendous help with the cutting and preparations.”
To date, Nervik has made 511 dolls. That’s counting the 26 she has made in the last two months of staying at home during the pandemic. Recently, she has split her craft time between making the pillow pals and making masks for local hospitals.
Nervik explained that the functional dolls are distributed by social service agencies, foster care groups, children’s hospitals and the Lord’s Place, which provides housing for homeless families.
To make a single pillow pal takes about four hours.
“There was no pattern, you just made your own eyes, nose and mouth, but the group did tell me the size, and that it had to have two hearts, one small and one large, on the material,” Nervik said. “From start to finish, cutting out the pieces, the arms, legs and eyes and to sew it takes the full four hours, but I can save some time by doing all the cutting for several dolls together.”
The cost to make dolls does add up, but donors have helped by providing supplies.
“I am blessed by donations of material,” said Nervik, who was pleased to note that Fairfield, a manufacturer of the stuffing material, recently gave her a grant after she called them. “They gave me a 40-pound box of stuffing in a donation that will keep me busy for a while.”
She plans to keep making her pillow pals as long as her eyes and hands will let her.
“I love to sew, it takes up the lonely hours during the two months of being sequestered, keeping me moving and keeping me sane. It gives me a purpose while confined to the house,” Nervik explained. “It makes the children so happy.”
Helping children in need makes all the effort worth it.
“My husband has gone, and I slowed down, but I still am making the dolls and donating them to children,” she said. “I could not have done all the dolls without kind donations of material and stuffing from friends and families. I get some help from my quilt group friends, for which I am extremely grateful.”
Nervik said she receives happiness from helping the families and children.
“There were so many thank you notes that I have a scrapbook of children when they were adopted with the smiles on their faces when they received them,” she said. “It has been a wonderful hobby and has brought much joy to me. I thank God every day for the strength to continue as long as I can.”