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June 13, 2007   Email to Friend 

Best Foot Forward
Debra Davis

Jody McDonald shows off some of her fancy footwork.
Jody McDonald's smile can light up an entire room, especially when she's talking to a sick child. Maybe it's because she's walked in their shoes.

Just ask 4-year-old Ja'Narica Davis of Troy who recently had surgery at Troy Regional Medical Center. When Ja'Narica was waking up in her hospital room, Jody was there to give her a new baby doll and talk to her about being in the hospital.

"I've been in hospitals a lot myself," said Jody as she put her arm around the girl she had met only minutes before. "It can be scary, but it's going to be OK. Maybe this new baby will take your mind off things."

Jody is the daughter of Tommy and Joanne McDonald who serve on the Bullock County Farmers Federation Board of Directors.

At 11, Jody is mature beyond her years, and is all too familiar with doctors and hospitals. The small insulin pump she wears on her belt looks more like a cell phone than the life-saving device that regulates her glucose level. She checks her level at least four times a day, requiring a finger prick she performs with the experience of someone much older.

Jody was diagnosed with diabetes when she was three years old, but her experiences made her determined to help children she describes as "really sick."

"When I've been in the hospital, I see all these other children who are sick and feel sad," she said. "I wanted to do something to make them feel better. I told my mom I wanted to buy them toys, but we couldn't figure out how we were going to pay for them."

The answer came when Jody's aunt, Wendy Cook of Florida, showed her how to make crocheted flip-flops. From that, Crafts for Kids was born last fall, and hundreds of children have been touched by Jody's idea, as have those who have purchased her fashion footwear.

"We buy the flip-flops, then we decorate them in different ways, depending on what we like or what people tell us they want," Jody said. "My mom helps out a lot, and so far, we can hardly keep up with the orders."

Bright colors are popular, and so are theme shoes - like those she's making for the Fourth of July that have red stars on the soles and bright blue fuzzy tops.

The flip-flops sell for $7 a pair, but many times people donate more when they find out what the money is used for, Jody said. All the proceeds from the flip-flops are used to buy toys that Jody and her 9-year-old brother Cody pick out. Family members and friends also make donations to help buy toys.

"I usually pick out the dolls and stuffed animals for the girls, and Cody likes to pick out the boys' stuff like Power Rangers and Transformers," Jody said. "We also buy things like pencils, paper, crayons and hand-held games - things kids can play with in bed."

The McDonalds also have made purchases for parents whose children are in the hospital. Particularly when a hospital stay is unexpected, things like a toothbrush, toothpaste, brushes and combs can come in handy. They've also made toy donations to the local Department of Human Resources as well as Children's Hospital in Birmingham.

The recent visit to the Troy hospital was extra special.

"Some of the hospitals have rules that don't let me meet the children who are patients," she said. "Today was my first time meeting someone who actually got one of the toys. I think she liked it, and I hope it makes her feel better."

Home schooled by their mother, Jody's and Cody's lessons include traditional topics plus Bible verses. One particularly passage stuck with Jody. When asked why she started Crafts for Kids, she quoted from the book of Ephesians, which says in part: "Be ye kind one to another..."

"Even though I'm young, I knew there had to be a way for us to buy the toys," Jody said. "I didn't know it would be flip-flops, but it's worked out great so far."

The flip-flops are such a hit; Jody and her mom can barely keep up with the orders. Recently they received an order for 20 pair from an office where all the staff wanted shoes made alike.

"It's really not that hard to make them once you learn how to do the crochet stitch," Jody said as she whipped the thread and hook quickly around the strap of a shoe she's working on.

When she's not making shoes, Jody loves feeding the family's herd of goats and playing with her brother on their farm in Bullock County in the Corinth Community.

She has been featured in the Union Springs Herald (the county's newspaper) and on a Montgomery TV station. But the celebrity status hasn't changed her one bit.

"It makes me very proud as a parent to have a child that is so giving," said Joanne. "When she was in the hospital, there were so many people worse off than she was. We talked a lot about that and about not feeling sorry for herself. What she does comes straight from her heart. All children are a blessing from God, and she is a special blessing."

You might say Joanne's parenting philosophy was taken from another Bible verse which says: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6

What does the future hold for Jody? She plans to make more flip-flops, buy more toys and maybe expand her gift giving to local nursing homes. "There are people there who need to know someone cares about them, too," she said.

To order flip-flops or make a donation, write to Crafts for Kids, c/o Jody McDonald, 2066 County Road 16, Banks, AL, 36005 or call (334) 474-3700.


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