You may know that Santa has elves in The North Pole, but did you know he also has some in Mt. Pleasant? The members of the Mid-Michigan Woodcrafters Club are Santa’s elves in human form, working hard year-round to ensure the children of Isabella County have a special toy to open on Christmas morning. Though Christmas is still over six months away, their work is already well underway.
Don Hire demostrates a stacked block toy in his woodshop. Hire will craft as many as 80 stacking block sets for charity this year.
“There’s a lot of disadvantaged children out there,” says Don Hire, Secretary of the Mid-Michigan Woodcrafters Club. “We like to help them out as much as possible.”
The club is comprised of about 40 members; however, not all of the members have the capacity or tools to create toys in their home woodworking shops. So, most of the toys are made by about half of the group’s members. Each year, the demand for their unique toys increases. Last year, the group made around 1,200 toys to donate to charities in Isabella County.
“That’s the most we’ve ever made,” says Hire.
The club gives toys to the women’s aid shelter in Mount Pleasant, as well as the Isabella County Child Advocacy Group; however, the vast majority of the toys go to Christmas Outreach of Isabella County, a nonprofit organization that provides for those in need during the Christmas season. Though the Mid-Michigan Woodcrafters Club has been involved with Christmas Outreach of Isabella County for many years, their partnership increased about four years ago, says Peggy Burke, President of the nonprofit.
“We sort of reorganized four years ago because we didn’t want to compete with Toys for Tots, but we still wanted to give some kind of toy,” Burke explains. “What we give are the things that will basically keep people warm. We give out coats and boots, blankets and linens… and we decided to give out wooden toys and books for children.”
Don Hire, Secretary of the Mid-Michigan Woodcrafters Club, and Tom Delia, President of the Mid-Michigan Woodcrafters Club, inspect some of the toys that have already been made to give to charity at Christmas this year.
Many of the toys are small cars or animals that can be used as stocking stuffers since every child of a family that comes to Christmas Outreach of Isabella County receives a stocking.
“It is one of the most special pieces we put in their stocking,” Burke says.
Other toys are set out on display in Finch Fieldhouse at Central Michigan University, where Christmas Outreach of Isabella County’s 2-day event has been held, for parents to select as gifts for their children. There are handcrafted puzzles, educational games with different shaped blocks, toy trucks, doll beds with linens made by the spouses of several club members, and much more.
“I think one of the things we try to do is provide as many action toys as possible,” says Tom Delia, President of the Mid-Michigan Woodcrafters Club.
Don Hire, Secretary of the Mid-Michigan Woodcrafters Club, cuts out a puzzle that will be given to charity at Christmas.
Just as Christmas brings people together, so too does this project. It unites people in the community to work toward a common goal: to provide for the less fortunate. And that uniting force goes beyond the membership of the club itself. They're also partnered with several local school groups who paint the toys.
“If they have an interest in some kind of community activity, this is a good thing for them,” says Delia.
Some of the school groups who have helped paint toys include the Key Club at Mt. Pleasant High School, Central Michigan University Rotaract, and students from Sacred Heart Academy. These students are able to bring a unique touch to the toys.
“Some of them actually are very creative,” says Delia. “Where I might just paint a car bright red they paint it red with racing stripes. So, it’s nice that they can be creative like that.”
The partnership that the club has with the school groups also allows the woodcrafters to create more toys since painting can sometimes be tedious work.
A “before and after” look at one of the toys created by Don Hire, Secretary of the Mid- Michigan Woodcrafters Club.
The result of the hard work of the Mid-Michigan Woodcrafters Club and students is something that Burke says makes a large impact on those who benefit from Christmas Outreach of Isabella County.
“They get to deliver all of these toys and spread a tremendous amount of joy and provide something we wouldn’t be able to if we had to purchase it,” she says.
Just as Santa’s elves do, each Christmas the members of the Mid-Michigan Woodcrafters Club deliver their toys and see the joy their work brings, and the continuing need for their efforts. So, each new year, they prepare their tools to begin again.
“Clearly there’s a need,” says Delia. “And we have a skill amongst us.”
The Mid-Michigan Woodcrafters Club meets the second Tuesday of each month (except July) at 7:00 p.m. Meetings are held at the Commission on Aging, located at 2200 S. Lincoln Rd. in Mt. Pleasant. Meetings are typically educational in nature, including topics such as the use of tools, design techniques, and finishing tips. The club is accepting new members. Those interested in joining can e-mail Tom Delia at email@example.com or Don Hire at firstname.lastname@example.org.