Holiday Toy Program


On a recent Friday morning, boxes laden with wooden toys — more than 3,700 in all — filled up the garage and spilled out onto the driveway of the McIver home in Delaware. Dan McIver joined several other members of the Woodworkers of Central Ohio in sorting them, guided by eight sheets of paper taped to a garage wall.

 
At a holiday party the previous night, eight area nonprofits had completed their “wish lists” — noting by age and sex the number of children for whom they sought to provide toys at Christmas. Santa’s elves were, therefore, working briskly, divvying up the handcrafted treasures they and many others had made — airplanes, trucks, race cars, doll cradles, jewelry boxes, boards for tick-tack-toe or Chinese checkers — in response to the many requests.

 
“The amount of poverty that exists within Franklin County — that number continues to increase,” said Mike Quinn, president of the woodworking group and chairman of its community-service committee. According to Ohio Kids Count of the Children’s Defense Fund, more than 1 in 4 children in the county lived in poverty last year, compared with about 1 in 5 in 2008 — both higher than the statewide average.

 
For 26 years running, the group of hobbyists has sought to buoy the spirits of youngsters in needy families through its toy drive. “Without their generosity, many children would not receive anything for the holidays,” said Shawn Holt, president and CEO of St. Vincent Family Center on E. Main Street, a longtime recipient of toys from the drive.

 
In 1987, when Dublin resident Charles Murray joined the group, it had about 25 members who met at the Northeast Career Center (since closed) to build toys, he said. In 2013, the group counts 144 members, with roughly half of them contributing toys to the drive — which has extended its reach to almost 1,000 families, said Quinn, also of Dublin. The toy-making has become a year-round endeavor, with supplies financed through membership fees or donated.

 
The woodworkers have split into smaller groups, meeting to build in home workshops. The Termites, the subgroup to which Quinn and Murray belong, rotate their meetings among homes, crafting a different set of toys each week. Most also build toys on their own time.

 
Many of the Franklinton families served by Gladden Community House — one of six settlement houses in Columbus — are blessed to have had “a long-standing friendship” with the woodworkers, said Whitney Vosler, volunteer coordinator at the agency.“We get hundreds of phone calls each season from families who are seeking toys for their kids,” she said. “So it’s nice to be able to have something to offer.” Gladden serves about 1,200 families through its food pantry and about 700 children in an after-school sports program, Vosler said. 
And, when it provides food boxes to families during the holidays, the agency includes at least one of the wooden toys for each child.


Besides St. Vincent and Gladden, the other entities receiving holiday toys this year were the Alpha Athletic Club, Big Walnut Friends Who Share, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the Fisher House at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and — new this year — the Ronald McDonald House and Westerville Area Resource Ministries.

 
With the growth in its membership through the years, the woodworking group has sought to supply more charitable organizations with toys, said Murray, who headed the community-service committee for 14 years. “The more members you have, the more toys you have, the more agencies you have to bring in under the umbrella — because what are you going to do with … (all the toys)?” he said.


The Woodworkers of Central Ohio organization, Murray said, was born out of the Pioneers, a group of Bell System employees who enjoyed woodworking. 
The Pioneers formed in about 1983, Murray said, but disbanded after Bell was broken up and some members died, giving way to the newer group. The ties to St. Vincent date from more than two decades ago, when the woodworkers began providing toys for children in the St. Vincent residential program.

 
Nowadays, the toy drive — for ages 3 to the early teens — benefits all programs offered by an agency that has supplied an array of behavioral-health services for youngsters since 1875. 
Quinn has pondered the value of members’ creations. “If the retail cost of a toy we make is $10, and maybe we’ll do close to 3,000 this year (the final count: 3,717), that’s a donation of about $30,000, which we don’t even think about,” he said. The woodworkers wouldn’t have it any other way. 
“It takes a lot of time, but it’s rewarding,” Quinn said. “You get a warm glow.”
 


For more than twenty years WOCO has conducted an annual Holiday Toy Program. Throughout the year members make wooden toys which are donated to organizations for distribution to needy children at Christmastime. Typically, more than 2000 toys are donated.  In recent years toys have been provided to St. Vincent Family Center, Gladden Community House, Big Walnut Friends Who Share, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Alpha Athletic Club, Fisher House at Wright Patterson AFB and St. Stephen’s Community House.

Toys are made by members either working alone or in groups. Working in a group is encouraged, especially for new members, as it is great way to meet new people and to learn about different tools and techniques. There are usually five to eight toy groups working during any given year.

Each year at the Holiday Party, members bring the toys they have made during the year and display them on tables set up around the room. It’s a wonderful time to show off what you’ve made, to see what your fellow woodworkers have made and to enjoy each other’s company in a festive setting. After the party the toys are gathered and distributed to the charitable agencies.

The toys made by WOCO members range from the very simple to the very elaborate. Some are made from plans in books from the WOCO library, some are original designs. Some members make very many toys, others only a few. Any level of participation is greatly appreciated. Putting a smile on the face of a child who doesn’t have many reasons to smile during the year is a reward well worth the effort.

For more information on the Holiday Toy Program including how to get started or to join a toymaking group contact Mike Quinn (mikequinn@columbus.rr.com) or Dan Strohecker (d.strohecker@hotmail.com).

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