Barbies help protect women in need

Latrobe-based club raises funds for violence victims

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The numbers are hard to fathom.

Three years: Time the Western Pennsylvania Doll Club spent preparing to host the 50th Anniversary Barbie Convention.

More than 1,120: The number of Barbie outfits that Nancy Parsons, of Latrobe, and the 17-member club made by hand.

And 18: The number of wheels on the tractor-trailer packed full of Barbie paraphernalia that was needed for the convention.

But the most impressive number: $131,000, the amount of money the club raised and will donate to charity this year.

"Our first year [hosting a national convention] we raised $102,000, it was $72,000 the second time we [hosted], and now it's $131,000," said Mrs. Parsons, a member of the local doll club and chairwoman of the 50th convention.

The Western Pennsylvania Doll Club will donate the money to Allegheny Power and pay the electrical bills for Victim Outreach Intervention Center, the American Association of Lost Children, and anyone else who needs a hand through the winter. The victim center, which has several branches, will receive $30,000 to $40,000, and the lost children's group will get about $12,000. What remains will be divided among needy individuals and families.

Barbies, in ball gowns, tweed pencil skirts, gingham dresses and bathing suits, cluster together in a small room in Mrs. Parson's home.

On one shelf is a geisha doll, her elaborate kimono handmade by Mrs. Parsons. On another is the Queen of the Turtles, her sequined shell and short green hair made by an artist and never reproduced.

Barbie, made by Mattel Inc., was introduced to girls at the American International Toy Fair in 1959. Although Ruth Handler's suggestion for an adult-bodied doll for kids was originally ignored by Mattel executives, to date an estimated 1 billion Barbies have been sold.

That so much money could be raised by Barbie collectors seems impossible, until the value of collectibles and nostalgia is factored in. The original Barbie sold for $3. In 2004, a mint-condition 1959 Barbie went for $3,552.50 on eBay.

Mrs. Parson's collection tops out around 400. She used to have twice that amount, but sold half of it for about $64,000.

So take 1,120 conventioneers from all over, put them in a hotel ballroom full of one-of-a-kind Barbies donated by artists and Mattel Inc., and let the bidding begin.

"Some $85,000 of that is from our live auction, about $23,000 from our silent auction and the rest is what we made from selling our souvenirs and stuff," Mrs. Parsons said.

Various Shriner groups, autism societies and Excela Health Latrobe Hospital have been recipients of the local doll club's convention fund-raising efforts. But in addition to occasional convention windfalls, the club raises money every year for its energy program.

"We're incredibly grateful they're willing to help our customers in need. It's a wonderful thing they do," said Allegheny Power spokesman Greg Stein. "It is an unusual thing for a private club to do."

Patricia Moore, executive director of the lost children's group, said she feels "blessed" her organization came to the attention of the doll club.

The organization helps recover children abducted by a parent. It guides the parent with legal custody through paperwork and then interviews relatives and friends to obtain tips on the missing child's whereabouts, all free of charge.

"Because we operate strictly on donations, it's always vital to receive any type of donation," she said. "Our staff and children go with us and we're out doing fund-raisers every weekend, car washes, donations on street corners, we're at different community events, anything to raise funds. Every nickel, dime and dollar is critical to us."

Likewise, Karen Wagner, of the victims' center, said the donation is "absolutely marvelous. ... It's a wonderful opportunity for us to have one less thing to worry about."

The group, based in Butler County, provides everything from counseling to residential programs to legal services for victims of violent crime.

Charitable donation is so important to the doll club that members used to call themselves Barbie Dolls with Blankets.

Members would give blankets to those whose electric bill was paid for by their energy fund. Mrs. Parsons remembers one home in particular had plastic covering the windows.

"If each doll club all across the country would start a program like this, what good we could do. It makes it so interesting if you have a goal and can do something to better your community," Mrs. Parsons said.

Victim Outreach Intervention Center has offices in Cranberry, Butler, Slippery Rock and Saxonburg. Their corporate office, in Evans City, can be reached at 724-776-5910.

American Association of Lost Children is located in Youngstown and can be reached at 724-537-6970.

To join the Western Pennsylvania Doll Club or donate to the energy fund, call Nancy Parsons at 724-532-0598. The club meets in Latrobe and dues are $24 a year.

Kate McCaffrey can be reached at or 412-283-1004.


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