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SALT LAKE CITY -- The nonprofit organization Operation Smile provides new smiles to children in third-world countries who suffer from cleft lip and cleft palette.
When sisters Shaelie and Alyssa Wood learned their father would be traveling to Mexico with the Xango Corp. to help these kids, they wanted to help out too.
Inspired by their own childhood comfort objects, Shaelie and Alyssa wanted to provide a simple source of comfort for other children preparing to receive surgery.
"A lot of these kids don't even have toys or stuffed animals," Shaelie explained. "So we decided to collect a lot of stuffed animals to give to them so that they will have a friend and it will comfort them when they go into surgery."
The girls took their "doll drive" door to door.
"We sent out fliers and e-mails, and we just talked to our neighbors," Alyssa said. "Everyone was so willing and supportive."
Even their 3-year-old sister got in on the act, donating her favorite pink poodle named Jessica.
With dozens of animals, dolls and other toys packed and ready to go, the two teens traveled to Mexico to spread smiles of their own.
"The kids had a grin from ear to ear, and their eyes were so big with excitement," Alyssa recalled. "They were like ‘Oh my gosh! Is this really mine? This can't be true!' It was amazing to be able to share that happiness with them."
The girls both said the take-away lesson was realizing even the smallest effort can, from hand to heart, make a difference.
"To be able to feel such pride in service and know you changed a life is amazing," Alyssa said. "One person can do that; and with so many more people, you can change so many more lives."