An Ontario artist is passionate about packing shoeboxes with handmade ‘Heart Pegs.’
Niki sits down at one of her favorite places on earth: her craft table.
It’s time to unwind from a long day.
She pulls out plastic containers of paint—colors reminiscent of strawberries, denim, and seashells. Wild rose pink and butterfly orange. Ladybug red and astronaut white. Policeman blue and pineapple yellow.
Next, wooden peg dolls are set down with care. These blank little canvases—at the touch of Niki’s artistic hand—will soon be transformed into imaginative characters full of personality.
There’s the brave-faced fireman. The sweet mother holding her darling infant. Adventurous mermaids, and the ready-come-what-may safari explorer. There’s a parka-donned family from the Arctic, a royal family complete with crowns, and even a team of doctors.
But these miniature dolls aren’t just for perks. In fact, they serve a larger-than-life purpose: to delight the hearts of children in need through Operation Christmas Child, and to give them the opportunity to know Jesus Christ.
Niki tucks each doll alongside other gifts in prayerfully packed shoeboxes. Then they are shipped to destinations like Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
“I’m passionate about Operation Christmas Child because my family and I believe in the ministry’s mission to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth,” says Niki.
“As a receiver of the love of Christ myself, I understand how impactful it can be,” she adds. “It is our prayer that each child, together with their loved ones, would get the chance to know and experience hope in Christ—His peace, His love.”
Niki uses a marker to draw a red heart on the underside of every doll. “It symbolizes that the dolls are made and sent with love,” she explains, “and most importantly, that Jesus loves these kids so very much!” It’s also the dolls’ namesake; Niki fondly calls her craft ‘Heart Pegs.’
This is Niki’s sixth year packing shoeboxes. Alongside her family and friends, she packed a spectacular 344 last season. But she didn’t begin painting peg dolls until 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to think creatively about how she could reach others with God’s love.
“We couldn’t do ‘normal’ things,” she recalls. “I wanted to serve the Lord, but didn’t know how to, while being at home. So Heart Pegs were born!”
Niki’s partner in craft is her nephew Carlson. She estimates that they have made about 500 so far. “And just like the shoeboxes, no two are ever completely alike,” she says.
“I think one set that’s in my top favorites this year is the ‘You Are Loved, Chosen, and Valued’ set. It’s a good reminder that in Christ, we are all that and more.”
Niki shares her creations on YouTube, posting everything from Heart Peg tutorials to themed shoebox ideas. Her gentle voice guides viewers from planning, to painting, to packing.
“We hope to inspire crafters out there!” she shares. “If anyone wants to get involved and paint Heart Pegs for OCC with us, we’ve uploaded some simple DIY videos that we hope can help people get started.”
Niki says 1 Corinthians 16:14 inspires her work: “Let all that you do be done with love.”
“And what is love?” she goes on to ask. “In 1 John 4:16 it says, ‘God is love.’ So in everything we do, God has to be in it—from what we put in the box, to sending the box for shipping—we have to pray for God’s guidance all the way!”
God alone knows the full impact of Niki’s Heart Peg passion. He sees each child who has held a special doll in the palm of his or her hand, found Niki’s hand-drawn heart, and felt loved. Chosen. Valued.