WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) - Local volunteers are giving back to military families in an effort to keep them connected during deployment.
McConnell Air Force Base gifts 'hero dolls' to kids and spouses of airmen and airwomen who are serving off base. The program started several years ago and continues to grow, with more than 500 dolls given out nearly each year.
"It just kind of helps them have the family member closer and it's just a physical representation of the person that is deployed," said MSgt Tammy Pederson. "Sometimes they may or may not be able to contact them so this is kind of way to keep them at least remembering the person and they are able to cope with the person being gone."
On Thursday, Pederson gifted Max, 2, with a hero doll of his dad Colt Hewitt.
"Daddy doll!" Max exclaimed.
"It warms my heart just seeing how happy he is," said Max's mom Elizabeth Hewitt.
Hewitt admits it's not easy being a single parent while her husband is on deployment.
"The last time he left Max was 4 months old, so he kind of missed a lot of the first crawling, first steps, first words so that was tough," Hewitt said.
Hewitt said now when tough times roll around Max can turn to his hero doll for comfort.
"It's nice to be able to look at pictures and stuff and just being able to see his face, but actually having this where he can take it wherever he wants and he talks about him all the time so he can now show people who is dad is and he's proud of him," she said.
Pederson said the hero dolls program has a special place in her heart.
"It's just one of those things it kind of gives you purpose and the reason why you do what you do is to help somebody else," Pederson said.
Volunteer Tabitha Gooch sews the dolls together. Her husband is in the military. When he was deployed her children were gifted with hero dolls.
"Oh my gosh, they loved those dolls. They called them their daddy dolls. They went everywhere with us, so some of them don't have faces on them anymore they have been loved so much," said Gooch. "
Parts of the dolls are made with old Air Force uniforms. Volunteers also sew pillowcases showcasing the men and women deployed.
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