Making wigs for children with cancer connects community in California’s Bay Area

JustServe effort with Magic Yarn Project brings together hundreds of volunteers and creates ripple effects of service

As Diane Ferrari walked among hundreds of people making yarn wigs for children with cancer last October, she saw joy, smiles, care, love and laughter.  

“It was a jovial, happy, non-stressful mood. It was palpable,” she said. “Service heals and it unites and it blesses both the giver and the receiver.”  

Children undergoing chemotherapy might find wigs too scratchy. But a soft yarn head covering — especially if it looks like a Disney princess or superhero — can be much more comfortable and inviting.  

The idea and patterns for the wigs came from the Magic Yarn Project — a nonprofit organization created by two mothers in 2015. The organization trains volunteers to assemble the wigs.  

As the JustServe specialist for the San Jose California coordinating council — which covers 10 stakes in the Bay Area — Ferrari was part of the months-long planning for the Oct. 8, 2022, wig assembling project at the Saratoga California Stake center. 

Since that day, children at local hospitals have been able to use the new wigs while the connections formed with the community have continued into new service opportunities and new growth for JustServe. 

Three princess wigs are on display in the Saratoga California Stake center on Oct. 8, 2022. JustServe volunteers followed the pattern to make more wigs for children with cancer with the Magic Yarn Project. | Jennifer Weaver

The preparation is a website and app where volunteers can find service opportunities around them. Listing the Magic Yarn project on JustServe brought in many different people to help along the way, Ferrari said.  

“Our goals were really to include the community, not just the Church membership,” she said. 

A lot of steps had to happen before even bringing people together to create the wigs. For example, 250 skeins of yarn needed to be cut into precise lengths. A group of young men in the Livermore California Stake learned woodworking skills for an activity and built 12 different cutting boards that could be used to measure and cut the yarn. 

“This is the beautiful thing about JustServe is I put it out there that we had we needed these cut and you could borrow the boards and cut the yarn,” Ferrari said. “And all these people responded who are not members of our Church.”  

The volunteers spanned across many demographics and ages. Some worked for corporations who give employees volunteer hours to use. Others were part of high school service clubs. Young women heading to girls camps brought yarn with them to cut.  

In the weeks leading up to the workshop date in October, Jennifer Weaver, the Saratoga California Stake Young Women president, shared information at libraries and yarn shops and knitting groups and showed a few examples of finished products from Magic Yarn. 

“Once they saw the wigs in person, they were like, ‘OK, what can we do? How can we be part of this?’” Weaver said. 

Lorraine Hepworth from the Saratoga California Stake JustServe communication council shared information with an interfaith group she was involved with, which prompted members from other churches to sign up to volunteer.  

The day of   

Hepworth said when volunteers came in to the stake center on the day of the project, they walked past paintings of Jesus Christ on the walls, then watched an orientation video in the chapel. In the cultural hall, large signs and posters advertised JustServe — with brochures to take home. 

Members of other faiths were able to learn more about the Church, JustServe and the blessings of Christlike service.

“They were very impressed with how everything came together in our building and how everybody was so kind, and so that was a very successful aspect of it,” Hepworth said. 

Weaver was glad to see so many different people from the community, including several groups of girl scouts and many families.  

“It was really great to see so many dads there with their kids — including teenage boys,” Weaver said.

A family takes a picture with wigs they made for the Magic Yarn Project and JustServe in Saratoga, California, Oct. 8, 2022. | Eliana Walker

Ferrari was also thrilled to see many youth taking part in the project, because that was one of the goals from the beginning. 

“Service unifies and heals, and if there’s ever a group that needs healing, and unification and socialization, it’s our youth right now,” she said. 

Members of the Saratoga, San Jose and San Jose South California Stakes participated as well. In all, 320 volunteers spent time that day assembling 159 wigs of all kinds and colors for children in need — while another 35 to 40 volunteers set up, trained wig makers, provided meals and snacks, handled registration, took pictures, wrapped wigs and cleaned up.

Since then 

Weaver said many people did not want the service project to end that day. “So many people were asking almost a little desperately, ‘When are you doing this again? When are you doing other things like this in your church?’” 

Ferrari said the service has continued long after the workshop day held in October through JustServe. A second-grade class spent their school holiday party in December cutting yarn to be cut yarn to be turned into wigs. Two more girl scout troops borrowed the cutting boards to cut yarn this month.  

Hepworth had a friend who is not a member of the Church take home JustServe brochures, saying she wanted her children to participate in service. “She has contacted the bishop. I think there’s been a lot of ripple effects from that day.” 

Another faith group signed up to continue helping the Magic Yarn Project going forward.  

“They just thought it was the greatest activity. In fact, they’ve come to other events now,” Hepworth said. “We had them come to the creche exhibit [at Christmastime] and when we had a Relief Society activity night, they signed up for that. They’ve gotten interested in more JustServe activities that we are doing, too.” 

While most of the wigs were sent to Magic Yarn to distribute where needed, Weaver kept a few to be able to deliver personally to local hospitals with the young women in her stake. They went to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford in Palo Alto on Dec. 16, 2022. Even though Weaver wasn’t sure if visitor rules would allow them in, they were given a lengthy tour of the facilities.  

“The girls loved seeing it, and we were able to give a wig to one recipient. So that was really wonderful,” Weaver said. “It was just really great for the youth to experience that.”

In the group with Weaver was her first counselor, Shawna Bohn, who is a breast cancer survivor, and a young woman who lost her mother to cancer. The service project and delivery were especially meaningful for them.

Three young women in the Saratoga California Stake deliver children’s wigs to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford in Palo Alto, California, Dec. 16, 2022. | Jennifer Weaver

Ferrari said sometimes people doing service projects never see the recipients, so from the beginning of this project she hoped the youth would be able to be included in dropping off the wigs. 

“That’s where empathy is taught. Empathy is taught and gained when you introduced that human element, and they were able to see it,” Ferrari said. 

Weaver also dropped off other wigs to the Ronald McDonald House in San Francisco on Dec. 20, 2022. When two other friends — also breast cancer survivors — found out, they wanted to come. “One isn’t a member of our church, but she drove us down. The thing that still sticks with me was that people wanted to be involved however they could, even if it just meant a drive into the city.” 

Now the women are working on planning another workshop day this coming year. They would like to expand the opportunities for youth involvement and for community outreach — because Ferrari said service builds bridges. She met strangers and neighboring stake members whom she now counts as friends. 

“I am so grateful for JustServe opportunities such as these that enable me to meet and work alongside people I probably would never have met any other way,” she said. 

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