Valerie Chamberlain loves her monkeys — all 450 of them.
Near the end of the BYU Women's Conference's Evening of Service on April 29, Sister Chamberlain sat on a folding chair and gazed glowingly at three 50-gallon, clear-plastic storage tubs overflowing with freshly stuffed monkey dolls.
"Look at one of their little faces," she implored. "They are silly. They're soft and they're cuddly and comforting. … These are my children!"
The stuffed monkeys will become part of 450 activity bags for Utah foster children. Sister Chamberlain, a costume designer and pattern maker, created the monkey pattern. Over several months, the Relief Society sisters of her Saratoga Springs (Utah) 4th Ward prepared the necessary materials so that, during the Evening of Service, Women's Conference attendees could stuff monkeys and assemble the other components of the activity bags.
In addition to a monkey, each 10-item activity bag includes coloring book with crayons, hand puppet and matching game. A circus theme unifies the contents, all of which sprang from the creative imagination of Sister Chamberlain.
"I thought that these children [who will receive the activity bags] are in a very unhappy place and they might not have a happy family," she said. "I did a lot of praying, and I decided a happy place would be a circus. That was my initial inspiration, a circus and the things in a circus."
Lorrain Huggans, Sister Chamberlain's daughter, was the chairwoman for the Women's Conference service subcommittee. In addition to the Evening of Service, Sister Huggans also supervised the Take, Make 'n' Return program, allowing women to pick up individual service projects at the beginning of Women's Conference and later return the finished products; sharing stations, a collection of 50-plus exhibits amounting to a "trade show of service ideas;" and the service learning rooms spread throughout the BYU campus where women could hear or view live feeds of conference sessions while working on service projects.
"I am just amazed that women pay to come to Women's Conference and stand in line for a long time to be able to serve," she said. "From the very beginning of the inception of service [at Women's Conference] I thought, 'Will women really want to come and really give service instead of just giving stuff?' But they do.
"To see women who come and hang out and talk and serve together, I have to say that has been the most amazing thing."