ToyMakers of East Lake, a non-profit located in Palmer Harbor, has been busy making toys to deliver to sick and less fortunate kids during the holiday season. This caps off a successful year that saw the organization send out thousands of hand-made wooden toys.
"We've been doing it about 15 years here. Prior to COVID, we delivered 20,000 toys in 2019," said Theresa Burke, the vice president of ToyMakers' board of directors, adding there was a slight dip in production during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. "Now, we're back up to about 17,500 for the year."
The workshop is staffed by retirees, who all have different backgrounds and volunteer their time. The oldest volunteer was 101 years old.
"[We have] everything from a janitor to an FBI agent, and they have the same goal. Let's make some toys for kids," said Donna Brochu, who was a human resources director before she retired. "How much would an employer pay to have people show up all the time, want to be happy, be proud of what they do and ask, 'can I do more?'"
From choosing and making the first cut into a piece of wood, to bagging the finished, painted product and sending it out, there are 36 steps to making a toy. Each volunteer takes pride in the precision needed to produce the wooden toys.
Nothing, however, beats the feeling they get when they deliver the toys.
"It's just the joy on their face when they get that toy and start playing," said Gordon Couturier, a volunteer who was a professor at The University of Tampa and now installs wooden wheels on wooden cars.
"You get to see the look on a child's face, and it may be the only toy they're getting for the holiday or in a pediatric ward or whatever," added Brochu. "It makes you feel good."
ToyMakers accepts volunteers of all ages. The youngest recent volunteer was 13 years old.
Anyone interested getting involved in the organization can find the contact information on its website, toymakersofeastlake.org.