A couple of hours after identical twins Sofia and Mirabel Atkinson were born, Mirabel was rushed to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where she spent the first two tenuous months of her life. Diagnosed with complex congenital heart disease, Mirabel underwent three major open-heart surgeries and three heart catherization procedures before her 7th birthday.
Now 13-year-old Beehives in the Capitol Hill Ward in Washington, D.C., Mirabel and Sofia decided they wanted to give back. As part of their Personal Progress requirements for the Young Women’s program of the Church, they collected more than 7,000 pairs of underwear for Children’s National. They were joined in the project by fellow young women from their ward, Isabel Marchena, 13, and Rebekah Lahti, 13, as well as young women from the nearby Anacostia Ward, Mercy Agwu, 12, and Esra Edwards, 12. Esra is also a Children’s National patient.
“We thought about knitted hats for babies or toys,” said Mirabel, “but I wanted to donate something that patients really need. Sometimes kids come to the hospital unexpectedly and they don’t have a change of clothes or clean underwear. In the hospital, doctors and parents make most of your decisions. You need to find ways to feel normal. Having clean underwear helps you feel like yourself again."
The twins' mother, Meredith Atkinson, added, “Patients often end up staying longer than they planned. There’s usually not time to go home and pick up clean underwear. Sick children often have accidents. Having clean underwear available at the hospital affords kids some degree of dignity.”
Mirabel said, “We learned that the hospital almost never receives donations of underwear. They have to buy it. We thought we could help fill that need.”
The girls set a goal of collecting 5,000 pairs of underwear.
“I thought that was a bit too ambitious and suggested they lower the goal to 1,000,” said Meredith Atkinson. “But Sofia said ‘Why wouldn’t people want to donate underwear?’ So we set the goal at 5,000.”
"We reached 144 percent of our goal,” said Sofia. “We made posters and handouts and created an Amazon wishlist and told everyone we knew about the drive. Soon underwear started arriving in the mail.”
Meredith Atkinson also posted messages on neighborhood list serves and social media support groups.
“I received a message from the Hope Marietta Foundation,” said Meredith Atkinson. “They wanted to donate about 1,000 pairs of underwear.”
The Hope Marietta Foundation supports children and families with congenital heart disease. When they contacted Hanes to buy the underwear, Hanes said they would donate some as well. In addition to the nearly 1,200 pairs donated by Hope Marietta Foundation, Hanes donated 166 pairs.
“Most of the underwear, nearly 6,000 pairs, came from individuals and families who donated 15-20 pairs each,” said Sofia. “That means about 300 individuals and families thought it was important enough to donate."
The six girls spent upwards of 80 hours each distributing flyers, making phone calls and sorting underwear by size and gender as it arrived. On Aug. 16, Children’s National presented the girls with Youth Volunteer of the Year awards for their service.
The girls had fun with the project. Mercy called all her friends and family members to ask for donations. “Sometimes I dialed the wrong number,” she said, “and even the people at the wrong numbers wanted to donate underwear.”
Isabel loved reading the notes that were sometimes included in the packages, mostly from people they didn’t know. “It made us feel good about the project,” she said.
The Atkinson girls enjoyed building walls of underwear in their parents’ living room, sorted by size and gender, as the packages poured into their home. But a highlight was when they received the large shipment of Hanes underwear from the Hope Marietta Foundation; it was addressed to “Superstars Mirabel and Sofia Atkinson.”