April 2013 | Vol. XII - No. 4
Q&A with Gloria Mecca for Heavenly Hug Dolls
It's easy for some people to brush off toys as mere entertainment. But as those of us in the industry know, and as any child (or adult!) with a beloved teddy bear or doll can tell you, for so many people toys are more than just a product to be pushed.
No one understands this concept more than Gloria Mecca, president of Heavenly Hug Dolls, LLC. After the tragic loss of her son, Gloria had a vision of the Heavenly Hug Angel doll, and realized it would be the prefect toy to comfort children and adults facing hardships.
Read more about Gloria's journey, and the process of turning her passion into a product, below.
Q. What career path did you originally envision for yourself? Did you ever anticipate working with children’s products.
A. I grew up at a time when being a mother was the most important job for a woman. I still believe there is nothing more important than children. I went to New York City Community College in the 1960s and studied legal assisting and worked at a Wall Street law firm until I married and left New York. For the next ten years, I was a stay-at-home Mom as so many of us were of that generation.
It was a time before Sesame Street and I read a book, How To Teach Your Baby to Read, and subsequently my three children were reading books by age three. The book was written by a mother who was told her child could never learn to read because of a disability and she proved them wrong. By the time my last child got to kindergarten, the teacher wanted to know how to teach her own child. I told her how important it was that you only allow them to read if they are good and they then look at learning as a reward and fun. I remember other mothers telling me I might be doing damage teaching them to read myself—how times have changed!
I remember my kids reading the milk carton at breakfast and my youngest at four teaching himself the states and every capital from an Atlas. I was asked to do volunteer teaching because my children were so advanced but never got around to creating a children’s product till later in life.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for your first product?
A. I did not sit down one day and decide to make my Heavenly Hug Angel. It never crossed my mind. The happy little angel came out of deep sorrow and pain after I lost one of my children tragically. I believe any parent who has lost a child can relate to the unbearable pain one experiences with such a loss—the big hole in our hearts one, five, ten years down the road—that place that remains empty forever.
To save my sanity in those early days after the tragedy, I started to meditate and one day the clear image of an angel doll appeared to me. I jumped up and drew what I had seen. She had extra-long arms and Heavenly Hug was written down one arm. There was a small heart saying “Hug You” over where the angel’s own heart would be. I bought fabric and worked for weeks until the angel looked like the one I had seen in meditation. When the first prototype was finished, I sat there and thought: What am I supposed to do with this angel? Because of the way she came to me in meditation, I felt she must have some special purpose.
From my own pain, an awareness of others’ suffering became a focus in my life. Recurring thoughts were “How do children cope with pain at an early age?” and “Where do they go for comfort?” In an aha moment, I realized Heavenly Hug would be a perfect companion for children with long-term illnesses who spend long hours in bed; ideal for an abused child looking for someone to hug and offer acceptance; perfect for a child who lost a sibling or parent; perfect for any child for naptime or bedtime or to share not only a child’s pain but also their joy.
A short time after they went on the market, I was surprised to learn that Heavenly Hug was being embraced by adults so they are not just for children. Grown children are ordering them for their parents and grandparents in nursing homes. One woman bought one for her father who lost his spouse of many years and he said he sleeps with her every night and his tears fall on the angel. Parents who lost a child find Heavenly Hug is a perfect keepsake and many name their angels after that child. They are also used as a comfort companion for children who lost a sibling.
I did not name the angel as I intended her to be a special companion, so I decided that the child should make that choice and an I.D. tag is attached to the Angel’s arm with a space to write the name the child chooses for this new best friend.
Q. What steps did you need to take to go from the original spark of an idea to actual production? How long did it take?
A. After I had the prototype done, it sat in my closet for seven years. I couldn’t have it made in the U.S. because the cost of the embroidery alone turned out to cost more than having the whole doll made and shipped from China, and I didn’t have the money to go to China to search out a factory. I was playing tennis one night and someone asked me what I did for a living. I was a realtor at the time and I had never mentioned the angel to anyone but for some reason I said I have a doll that I would like to put on the market but I don’t know anyone in China. He said I know someone right here in Phoenix who is a part owner of a factory in China and he gave me his name and so my journey began.
Q. What charitable organizations has your company worked with in the past?
A. When Heavenly Hug first came on the market in late 2008, I talked to officers of different non-profit organizations. It was at that time the Bernie Madoff scandal broke and it affected so many charities because many wealthy people who donated on a regular basis lost all their money. The founder of Stardust Non Profit here in Scottsdale loved the Angels and said at any other time he would have bought all my angels and distributed them but they already had the next two years contributions spent and that had never happened before. The program officer of AZ Community Foundation said that although people need food and shelter they need hope to get them through and so many people believe in the power of angels. Like the other non-profits, they were hurting for money but he urged me to get my angels out there.
I’ve donated angels to Childhelp and Sojourner Center, both domestic violence centers where children can be afraid to be touched.
I recently got a request from the State of Florida Dept. of Children and Families asking me if I could donate some angels. They said children are removed from homes and only allowed to bring a few items, mostly clothing and school books and there is rarely room for something soft and comforting to a child. It is a difficult time in their lives and they hoped I would assist them with some angels—and of course I will.
Last year I attended a charity event in L.A. for children with EB (Epidermolysis Bullosa) which is a skin disease. The children were in wheelchairs and watching them hug the angels was so heart-wrenching. Amazingly, I got to meet Brad Pitt, James Marsden, Adam Sandler and other celebrities who attended the charity event with their own children.
I donate regularly to The Wellness Community of Phoenix which is a cancer nonprofit where survivors meet and cope with recovery. The coordinator there said to me that people may not realize how many children are actually cured of cancer so there is a positive side to all the research being done.
In July I donated 225 angels to the Scottsdale Senior Center. They delivered them to seniors who live alone. A woman called to thank me and said you have no idea how great it is to be hugged. We sometimes forget the elderly who are so lonely.
Q. What experience do you have working with charities on a personal level?
A. I belong to the UMOM Women’s auxiliary. UMOM is a non-profit that provides housing for homeless people while they train for a job to get back on their feet. Recently there have been military families moving in because the men come back and have a hard time re-adjusting to society. They also have a domestic violence division and I’m told by the woman in charge that they really appreciate Heavenly Hug because homeless women often lack mothering skills and their children desperately need hugs. We make and serve dinner to homeless mothers and children in downtown Phoenix and have charity events to collect money for books, clothing, medical equipment and other items.
Last year a group of my friends and I made and served dinner at the McDonald House affiliated with Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Some of the children came down with their parents to have dinner. One little boy with a hospital mask on ran over to the wagon I had there filled with angels. He asked me if he could have one and he hugged the angel and started dancing around. He suddenly stopped and asked could he have one for his sister, she’s three. It touched my heart to see this child who was suffering himself thinking about his sister. Another mother came up and asked if she could have a little boy angel in memory of her son who she just lost. Other mothers came up and thanked me as if they were real angels. I may never be a rich woman, but the reward I feel when someone says my angel has helped them is priceless.
I attended a number of Grandparents’ meetings at SAARC (Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center in Phoenix). Just as these people retired, their grandchildren were diagnosed with autism. It amazed me how these seniors are coping and helping their own children by taking an active role in their grandchildren’s lives. A friend of mine bought two red Heavenly Hug Angels for six-year old twin autistic girls. Their mother said the girls carry the angels everywhere and dress them in their own clothes. Autistic children like bright colors and so they have red angels.
Q. What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment in the toy industry? Why?
A. My greatest accomplishment in the industry is that Heavenly Hug Angels help bring comfort to children going through hard times. There are many learning toys on the market which are definitely beneficial to children but we sometimes forget the children who are in pain and we need to reach out and help do whatever we can to show them someone does care about them and give them hope for better times.
Q. How do you hope your product affect childrens’ lives?
A. I was told by a child therapist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital that they are now teaching parents how to hug their children along with medication. A hug might seem like a small thing but can be a very powerful gesture to a child who is sick or feeling abandoned.
We need to give hope to children going through hard times and to encourage them not to give up on the world being a better place as my son did. Heavenly Hug is in my Gary’s memory and that gives me the drive to get the angels to as many children as possible.
Hopefully, in addition to the comfort a Heavenly Hug Angel brings, they teach children that people do care about them and hopefully one day these children will grow up to be compassionate human beings knowing a simple hug can help someone going through some challenge and to reach out to those people. Play It Forward. Just maybe, one person at a time we can change the world…
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Writer's Bio: Justina Huddleston graduated Magna Cum Laude from Emerson College with a BA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing in 2009. After graduating she was the on-site director of the Boston Children's Museum gift store for a year, selling educational, developmental, and creative activity toys that tied in with the museum's exhibits. Justina also interned at children's book publisher Candlewick Press before moving from Boston to Los Angeles, where she is now Editorial Director of TDmonthly Magazine. Read more articles by this author
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