Some ice cream and a new doll

News Photo by Julie Riddle Isabella McCrimmon, 4, of Alpena happily holds her new friend at an ice cream social at St. Paul Lutheran Church on Saturday.

ALPENA –In the basement of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Alpena, little girls in princess tiaras indulged in vanilla ice cream loaded with sprinkles and chocolate sauce. Moms and grandmas chatted and watched their young charges revel in an afternoon just for them.

“It just makes me feel really good to do it,” said Janet Hardy, who made the event possible. “I think they enjoy the day and really remember it.”

Young girls around the state have been at the center of ice cream socials sponsored by Hardy, who lives downstate but frequently visits her sister in Alpena. For several years, Hardy has purchased ice cream, prizes, and gift bag trinkets to give a lift to little girls downstate who, for one reason or another, need to be treated like a princess.

After games, ice cream, and gift bags, the party’s big moment arrived: dolls.

On a tiered display in the corner of the room, 40 dolls from Hardy’s personal collection waited to be chosen. A collector for the past 35 years, Hardy owns 600-plus Madame Alexander and Ginny dolls, brands that have been highly prized by collectors since the middle of the 20th century. She decided a few years ago that some of her dolls should be, instead of on shelves in her home, wrapped in the arms of little girls.

“I just love to see their faces. They’re so appreciative,” Hardy said, beaming at the ice cream-filled girls who waited to choose a special new friend to take home.

At first, Hardy donated dolls to foundations for young leukemia patients, but she missed being able to see the joy on the faces of the recipients. Landing on the idea of throwing parties for girls who might not otherwise have a special doll in her life, Hardy started gathering names of potential invitees from churches, foster care groups, and individuals.

In the St. Paul basement, the girls eyed the dolls in their fancy outfits, waiting for their number to be called so they could choose their favorite. The dolls, dressed as a nurse, a schoolgirl, a bride, a dancer, stood proudly on their stands, posable bodies adorned with fancy outfits and miniature details — a bouquet of red roses, a tiny wicker basket, a sailor’s cap.

The two dozen girls — some of them in foster care, some recently adopted or under guardian care, some who just needed to be treated like a princess for a day — each decorated a box to be used to carry their dolls home. Claire Lahaie, 7, used “ice cream stickers and owls and stars” to make her box special, she said. She hoped to take home the cowgirl doll, but, she agreed, they were all beautiful.

They day demanded a special outfit, according to Isabella McCrimmon, 4, who dressed herself in a pink rose-covered dress and oversized pink pearls to match her pink hairbow and sparkling tiara.

Carefully choosing a gold-gowned beauty to take home in her box, McCrimmon thought for a moment about what she would do with her new doll when she got home.

“Play with her,” the pink-bowed princess finally decided.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.