What began as a fun hobby for a 64-year-old Brazilian grandfather has turned into an extra special project, touching children facing various disabilities.
João Stanganelli Jr., who has vitiligo, began crocheting last year after health issues forced him to take a step back from working in the food industry, he tells PEOPLE. After mastering rug and animal designs, Stanganelli decided to make a special doll for his granddaughter that included vitiligo patches so she’d always remember him.
He says his granddaughter was overjoyed, and Stanganelli was so proud of the creation that he shared a photo of it online. Soon after, Stanganelli began getting requests from people looking for their own “vitilindas” and “vitilindos.”
“I feel blessed for the opportunity to bring a little encouragement to people,” he tells PEOPLE in Portuguese. “The response is always positive. I’m happy! [The kids] love the dolls and feel represented.”
So far, he’s created about 200 custom dolls, including a doll in a wheelchair, a doll with alopecia and one with a cochlear implant. His Instagram account is filled with photos of his creations and Stanganelli sporting his signature wide smile as he works on the dolls.
His creations have made headlines, and he’s amassed nearly 10,000 followers on Instagram.
“It’s been wonderful,” he tells PEOPLE. “So far it’s only positive.”
Vitiligo is a skin disorder that causes areas of a person’s skin to lose color, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Between .5 and 1 percent of the global population lives with vitiligo, which tends to progress over time, according to the Department.
Stanganelli has lived with the condition since he was 38 years old, he tells PEOPLE. The doll maker says he’s happy to uplift so many children with the same disorder, and doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.
“It has been rewarding, stimulating. I’m happy to be a good influencer,” he says, adding a message for people everywhere: “Stains on vitiligo are beautiful. What is ugly is stains on people’s character.”
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