HUDSON — Santa’s elves might be busy for the holidays, but volunteers with ToyMakers labor year round in their Hudson workshop to make free toys for distressed children.
“It’s a labor of love,” Toymakers President Bill Coccia said.
In an age with electronic toys, videogames smartphones and other modern distractions, the wooden toys maintain their popularity, Coccia commented.
Adults “can’t believe that we make wooden toys that they played with when they were youngsters,” Coccia said. The durable wooden toys stand up a lot better than plastic, store-bought items, he added.
ToyMakers target many of their brightly colored creations for youngsters from infants up to age 8.
“We’re making about 20,000 toys a year now,” Coccia said.
The nonprofit group of retirees started in 1982 with six members, Coccia recalled. The founder, Jim McCullagh, recently turned 90. McCullagh had learned that his grandchild didn’t have any toys to play with while in All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. He enlisted the help of his friend Bruce Pahl.
“That’s how the whole thing started,” Coccia said. “It just blossomed.”
Some 30 regulars descended upon the workshop where they work three days a week. When all seasonal residents return, ToyMakers can have as many as 80 to 90 helpers, Coccia said.
Senior residents in the group sought an outlet to get out of the house and give back to the community, Coccia explained.
On Monday, volunteer Bill Dye brought toy parts he had painted at home for final assembly.
Linda Behrenbe penciled the outline of toy parts on a block of wood.
Mario Cellini on the scroll saw then cut out parts from the wood.
Jim Behrenbe and Norma Tener were among those working drill presses.
Louis Weber used a belt sander to smooth rough edges of wood. Jack Smaltz operated a circular sander.
Dodo Doodle, the long-haired dachshund of Bill and Valli Dye, is the unofficial mascot for the group.
They make all sorts of wooden toys, including puzzles, cutouts, pull toys and blocks. Some members work on toys at their workshops at homes. A group at the CARES center in Beacon Woods make dolls to distribute.
The handmade items then are distributed far and wide to 27 agencies in four counties to give to children who are sick or needy.
ToyMakers supply New Port Richey police and fire departments, Port Richey police, Salvation Army Center of Hope, Pasco County Fire Rescue stations, Children’s Treatment Center at The Harbor, Eckerd Community Alternatives, Pasco Kids First, Youth and Family Alternatives and All Children’s Specialty Care of Pasco.
“About 99 percent of the toys stay in this area,” Cocciasaid. “However, we do ship toys all over the world.”
ToyMakers thrive strictly on donations, Coccia said. All the wood is donated. Nobody is paid for their work. The group operates on about $45,000 a year from cash donations and in-kind contributions.
“When you consider that we go through 20,000 to 24,000 various size wheels, thousands of dowels for axles, and untold gallons of spray and liquid paints every year, not to mention repairs to our machines, you can understand our very deep appreciation of our sponsors,” a blurb on the ToyMakers website says.
People can donate through PayPal on the website www.thetoymakers.org.
For more information call (727) 376-4368 or email email@example.com.