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Greater Mount Vernon Church collects Black dolls ahead of the holiday season

Members at Greater Mount Vernon Church wanted to focus on collecting culturally diverse toys that give children a chance to see themselves.

MINNEAPOLIS — Gifts under the tree are something many of us take for granted.

“It’s a really small thing that can have a really big impact on a kid,” said Jill Petty, ministry chair at Greater Mount Vernon Missionary Church.

It’s the reason Greater Mount Vernon Church in North Minneapolis started collecting more than 200 dolls and toys as a part of the Salvation Army’s Toy Shop for the second year in a row.

The church, which is a predominantly Black church, wanted to collect all dolls this holiday season, but specifically Black and other ethnic dolls.

According to Petty, the idea came to life three years ago from the church's contact at the Salvation Army, who shared that roughly 80% of its clients are people of color and that the toys the Salvation Army received didn’t represent that diversity.

"As a parent who is unable to provide for your child and so you are relying on community resources," said Petty. "It's stressful enough to not be able to provide but also know I have a child who is a person of color, and I might get a white baby doll. That might not be in line with those parents’ views."

After learning of the need, Petty said she went straight to the church's pastor, Pastor John L. Bowen Sr., who immediately agreed.

"We pride ourselves in being a community church and we try to serve the people," said Bowen. "In North Minneapolis, as a predominately Black church in a predominately Black neighborhood, I think it means so much for our kids to be able to identify with dolls and see that Black is beautiful." 

Petty says the effort is doubly important. Not only is her church providing gifts for families in need, but the church is providing gifts that reflect the families.

"Being able to provide African-American dolls for parents will not only rest reassure they are able to provide a toy under the tree but that the toy represents that family," said Petty.

The church also expanded its ask to include toys to fit children of all gender identities including sporting goods, race cars and more.

But even with the help of local organizations like Greater Mount Vernon Missionary Church, the Salvation Army still believes it will fall short of its Christmas goal to reach 15,000 children. According to the organization, the current inventory can only accommodate 11,000 children.

The church's toy drive runs until Saturday, Dec. 19. The church will then drive the toys to the Salvation Army’s Toy Shop the same day.  

Anyone interested in donating unwrapped toys can do so during normal church hours at 1800 N. Dupont Avenue in Minneapolis from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

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