It sounds like something out of a wild story book. This weekend, a bunch of dolls will join forces to help out a house founded by a popular red-headed clown.
On Saturday and Sunday, Tavistock Country Club in Haddonfield will host the 15th annual American Girl Doll Fashion Show to benefit the Ronald McDonald House of Southern New Jersey.The fundraiser consists of five shows over two days. Over 100 girls will serve as runway models, dressing to match one of the iconic American Girl dolls. Contemporary looks from American Girl’s “Dress Like Your Doll” collection and Bitty Baby fashions will also be featured. A doll hair salon and an ice cream tea party are paired with typical fundraiser favorites like raffles, door prizes and a Chinese auction.Longtime contributor Sammi Jo Danze says the event isn’t just a fashion show, it’s an educational experience.During the fashion show, commentators talk about the history surrounding each character and the difference between life then and life now, focusing on changes in dress and what people considered important. The show is meant to be fun, but at the end of the day, it’ss about supporting the Ronald McDonald House. Danze says they usually try to have some of the families currently living in the house to talk about their experience, and many choose to offer their thanks.
“The kids get to see who benefits,” which makes it a much more powerful experience for them. Danze knows well what goes into and comes out of each show. She has been volunteering for the event, as well as around the house, for well over 10 years.Her involvement began at age 12 when her father volunteered her to model in one of the shows. She toured the house afterward and “just fell in love,” she said. “It really meant something to me.”
Since getting involved in the 2nd American Girl Doll Fashion Show, Danze has worked in nearly every capacity. She organizes the doll hair salon, finds and coordinates commentators and serves on the small advisory committee for the show. This year, she will add emcee to her credits.
Teddy Thomas, director of the Ronald McDonald House of Southern New Jersey, calls Danze fantasic. “She got involved and chose to stay involved… she is always willing to help with everything.”There is a lot to help with around the House. The 30,000 square foot home hosts anywhere from 75-100 people every night. Families with children receiving treatment at nearby hospitals can take advantage of the house’s large kitchen, family and playrooms and laundry facilities before retiring to one of the 21 private rooms. “It’s like your house only for 21 families,” said Thomas. There are gas, electric, and water bills to be paid and household necessities that need to be constantly available, like light bulbs, toilet paper, milk and cereal.
But the house provides more than meals and shelter. Thomas explained that families often find compassion and friendship at the house. They can share their “hopes and sad days” with people who understand the sometimes overwhelming nature of having a seriously ill child.”I learned so much working with the house. I don’t even know how to put it into words,” said Danze. The best thing is that it “removes all burdens,” she explained. “During the toughest time of a parent’s life, they get to stay with their sick child and their other children. Their family isn’t broken up.”The American Girl Doll Fashion Show is one of the biggest events for the House during the year, and probably the biggest source of funding, said Danze.