Volunteer effort marks 40 years of making sock monkeys for patients

On Mondays, volunteers gather at the Los Altos Senior Center to create the toys, which are made from red-heeled work socks, nylon hose, yarn and red ribbons.

- By Kate DeTrempe

Over four decades, volunteers have made about 12,000 sock monkeys for patients at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford.
Katherine Emery

Forty years ago, flyers appeared around town calling on volunteers to join in some “Monkey Business” to benefit young patients at Children’s Hospital at Stanford, as Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford was then known.

The advertisement read:

The Los Altos Senior Citizens Drop-in Center is forming a new group to sew “monkey toys” to be given to the children at Children’s Hospital at Stanford.

Prewashed old hose, bits of yarn and scraps of material will be used for stuffing. If you have some to contribute, please drop off at the center any Monday, Wednesday or Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. or bring it with you on Monday, April 25, 1977.

Won’t you please come and help us out on this project?

Volunteers arrived at the Los Altos Senior Center that day with sewing and embroidery thread, needles and scissors, and have been coming back ever since to create sock monkeys for the patients at Packard Children’s.

Monday gatherings

Every Monday morning, volunteers gather to create the toys, which are made from red-heeled work socks, nylon hose, yarn and red ribbons. The volunteers add individual characteristics to each doll as they put on the finishing touches, including unique faces, ribbons and pom-pom decorations.

Over the past four decades, volunteers have created about 12,000 sock monkey toys, which have become widely recognized and loved by Packard Children’s patients and their families. The toys have never been sold but instead are given as gifts to young patients who need a little extra TLC while staying at the hospital.

Marge Filson, one of the dedicated “monkey toy ladies.”
Katherine Emery

Marge Filson, a 95-year-old volunteer, has been a self-proclaimed “monkey toy lady” for the past 28 years. For her, hearing families tell about the joy their toy monkeys bring them is what it’s all about. “You see these kids receive monkeys, and they are so excited,” she said. “Anyone who has received a monkey has been very, very happy. I love seeing the response.”

Filson had a special moment while shopping for monkey toy supplies about 15 years ago. After explaining to the woman behind the counter that the socks she was buying would be turned into monkey toys, she was met with great enthusiasm. “She told me she had always wanted to talk to a monkey toy lady,” Filson said. “She had spent much of her childhood as a patient at Packard Children’s, where she received her own sock monkey toy, and she had always wanted to meet someone who made them to say thank you.”

‘A sense of comfort’

Every month, the sock monkeys are picked up at the Los Altos Senior Center and distributed to patients at Packard Children’s by Joe Manfrey, a 90-year-old volunteer who has dedicated more than 25 years to the hospital.

“After four decades, the handmade sock monkeys continue to bring a sense of comfort to our patients as they go through a difficult time in their life,” said Maryellen Brady, the hospital’s director of volunteer services. “We are fortunate to have built a long-lasting relationship with the volunteers of the Los Altos Senior Center, and we are grateful for their dedication to the families who receive these special gifts.”

“Here I am almost 100 years old, and I’ve been at it for over 25 years. It’s very much a joy for me to be involved,” Filson said. “It’s such a wonderful program. I’ve put all my life into it.”

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.

2023 ISSUE 2

How the environment and health interact