You know at the beginning of the movie Annie (circa 1982), when Annie saves Sandy from the gang of ruffians who tie a string of cans to his tail? Sandy licks Annie’s cheek in gratitude and Annie deflects, saying, “I didn’t do nothing any decent person wouldn’t have done.”
Please meet Magnolia Rose Vandiver, one of the most decent people in Maine. Magnolia’s not an orphan and her hair is not curly, red, or big like Quvenzhané Wallis’ but she does possess Annie’s sense of determination and compassion.
When Magnolia Rose was 8 she decided to give away all of her toys. She announced that she didn’t want any presents and that she would give any money she got to charity (specifically, Sustainable Harvest International).
Magnolia Rose first heard about Sustainable Harvest International from her mother, who often asks friends and family to donate to SHI in lieu of birthday/holiday gifts. SHI’s mission is to provide farming families in Central America with the training and tools to preserve our planet’s tropical forests while overcoming poverty.
For three years, Magnolia donated to SHI, sending her check along with a beautiful hand-drawn card. But as she got older, Magnolia Rose had something bigger in mind.
A student at a Waldorf school, Magnolia had seen people needle-felting since kindergarten and started felting herself. She began creating felted dolls around natural themes—colors of wool, etc., and eventually making goddess dolls that represent myths and faiths from around the world.
Magnolia’s goal was to sell the dolls she made at the Common Ground Country Fair, in Unity, Maine, and give all the proceeds to Sustainable Harvest International. The youngest vendor at the fair, she had been waiting several years to be able to participate—vendors have to be at least eleven years old.
“On the way to the fair, I asked my mom, ‘Do you think I’ll sell half of them?’ We thought maybe a third of them would sell. Maybe.”
She got the blue ribbon for the whole area—all 11-21 year old vendors—and sold almost all of her dolls.
“People went crazy over them. They were so excited about what I was making. I made a little sign that said all proceeds would go to Sustainable Harvest International. Some people said it made the dolls extra special, like icing on the cake.”
Where does Magnolia Rose’s inspiration come from?
Magnolia Rose lives with her family in Penobscot, Maine (population 1,344)—a small community where everyone knows each other very well.
“I imagine that being the case in the places where SHI works, too. It’s nice to think about. When people don’t have much, people really share with each other. If one person produces a lot of vegetables with SHI, they might give some extras to their neighbors and their friends…I think about the families that are happy because of the work that SHI is doing—they have food and a way to make money.”
In addition to the support and influence of her community, Magnolia Rose is inspired by her grandmother, who lives in India. Over twenty years ago her grandmother felt called to India and has been living there since then, in a spiritual community.
Recently, Magnolia Rose had the good fortune to make a trip to India and visit her grandmother.
“She’s sort of head of everything…people come up to her on the street and touch her feet,” Magnolia Rose says.
“But she’s also very humble and she’ll never say that she’s a revered person,” her mother, Marianne Vandiver adds.
Spending time with families in India who appeared to be very happy and yet owned very little had quite an effect on Magnolia Rose. She saw for herself that humans everywhere, despite their differences, are very similar. It’s economic and social realities that can render their circumstances so differently.
The act of giving
For Magnolia Rose, creating and giving come hand in hand. The production of her felted dolls (especially at that scale and pace) might seem like entrepreneurship endeavor, but for Magnolia Rose it’s about the act of giving rather than maximizing profits.
“If you’re going to do something like this, find something that you really love to do,” Magnolia Rose recommends. “I worked all year to get enough dolls to have at the Common Ground Fair and that meant a lot of summer days spent on her bed felting. But if you really love to do something, you’ll find yourself able to produce even more, and then you’ll have even more to give.”
What’s next for Magnolia Rose?
When asked if she’ll do something similar next year, Magnolia Rose says yes. Though she’s been advised to keep some profits for herself next time, Magnolia Rose says, “Think about those families! Think about what the money could be for them, as opposed to me.”
While Magnolia recognizes it may be uncommon for people her age to produce high quality crafts at such a massive scale, “I’ve gotten used to it,” Magnolia Rose says. “I don’t realize I’m so unusual. People sometimes fawn over me, and I’m like, I’m just me!”
Like Annie, Magnolia Rose Vandiver is decent and humble. Through Sustainable Harvest International, she became more aware of issues related to slash-and-burn farming and deforestation and how SHI works with farming families to restore ecological balances and support sustainable agriculture as a way out of poverty, but the decision to become a major donor was completely her own imperative. What Magnolia Rose likes about Sustainable Harvest International is that participant families are taught how to help themselves out of poverty. And while Magnolia may think that she didn’t do anything that any decent person wouldn’t have done, the energy and effort she’s put into supporting families in Central America goes beyond decency and is something deserving of great admiration.