Magic Yarn Project leader helps oversee donations of thousands of princess- and superhero-themed wigs and character beanies each year
When a 3-year-old girl with leukemia recently went to the hospital for her fourth chemotherapy treatment of the week, she was understandably not excited to be there. When she got to her hospital room, she was given a handmade yarn wig fashioned to make her look like Elsa, the princess from the Frozen movies.
“It changed the morning!” the girl’s mother wrote in a message to Shelly Allen, who sent the wig to the hospital. “She immediately put it on and started singing ‘Let it Go.’ Thank you for the cheer; your work is beautiful! This will be cherished and well-loved for the years of treatments ahead for her.”
Allen, who lives in Kings Mills, Ohio, and has worked for U.S. Bank for more than two decades, is a national leader in the Magic Yarn Project, an organization of volunteers who crochet yarn wigs for children with cancer. She gets messages like the one above on a regular basis.
“Those letters are kind of our payday,” Allen said. “You work at your regular job all week, sometimes you’re tired, and then you have to work on the Magic Yarn Project for the evening or weekend to get things done. Then you get one of those notes, and you’re ready to go again.”
Allen’s regular job is serving as senior portfolio manager in the mutual-fund lending division at U.S. Bank. She oversees a team that provides lending facilities to mutual funds that are custodied with U.S. Bank Global Fund Services.
Because mutual funds invest in various securities, which can take time to sell, the funds may secure short-term loans when cash is needed quickly, Allen said.
“If you or I owned shares in a mutual fund and wanted to redeem the shares to get cash, the fund could borrow money to pay us out,” she said.
Allen has been with the bank for 23 years and in her current position for more than 22 of them. Over the years, her department has experienced significant growth.
“The manager moved on six months after I started, and I took over the role,” Allen said. “They had just created the department when I joined. We had maybe three funds then, and now we have over 600.”
Allen got involved with the Magic Yarn Project in 2016 after seeing a post on Facebook from a woman in Alaska making wigs for children who’d lost their hair from cancer treatments.
“I liked that they made wigs like Disney princesses. We’re a Disney family and had gone to Disney World a lot in those years,” Allen said. “I also liked the creative part. When you work with numbers all day at the office, it’s fun to relax with a hobby when you get home.”
Allen traveled to Alaska to train with the founder, and her involvement with the Magic Yarn Project continued to grow. Allen now oversees hundreds of volunteers across most of the United States and Canada.
“One reason we do this is to get wigs to children who have cancer so they can forget about that and just be kids,” she said. “Even if it’s just for 10 minutes, they become Elsa; they become a princess.”
The other reason is volunteering and building community, Allen said.
“I have met so many people across the country and across the world,” she said. “We’ve sent wigs to every state and 52 different countries. It’s very heartwarming to know you’ve touched that many people and to get notes from moms telling us how we’ve made their day.”
In addition to Disney princesses, the Magic Yarn Project makes character beanies that are fashioned after Marvel superheroes, as well as characters from Star Wars, Paw Patrol and other movies and TV shows.
Allen rarely has time to make wigs herself, as her home serves as a hub where volunteers send their crocheted wigs. She manages the inventory, teaches at workshops and ships boxes of wigs to children’s hospitals, Ronald McDonald Houses and other organizations.
“About 20 to 30 boxes of wigs come in each week that we sort through and inventory,” she said. “We have our own special knock at our local post office so they’ll open the door for us.”
The Magic Yarn Project has grown every year since beginning in 2015 and will distribute about 8,000 wigs this year, Allen said.
“The Magic Yarn Project has over 250 volunteers crocheting beanies and accessories, but volunteers also bedazzle flowers, decorate envelopes and cut yarn,” she said. “There is something to do for anyone wanting to make some magic for these little cancer fighters.”
How to find volunteer opportunities in your area
Shelly Allen isn’t the only U.S. Bank employee with a passion for volunteering. U.S. Bank helps fuel that passion by providing eligible employees with 16 hours of paid time off each year to volunteer and make an impact in their communities. In addition, for the seventh consecutive year, U.S. Bank is working with VolunteerMatch on #GiveTime, its annual social media campaign tied to #GivingTuesday, an international movement happening Nov. 28. To find volunteer opportunities in your area to share kindness by giving time, which is the theme of this year’s campaign, visit volunteermatch.org.
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