News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Local woodworkers are ‘Santa’s elves’

The lobby at Touchmark at Mount Bachelor Village in Bend looked like Santa’s workshop last week when the residents and members of Sisters Area Woodworkers (SAW) and the Central Oregon Woodworkers (COW) of Bend gathered to celebrate the completion of their annual toy project for children at risk.

The cooperative effort includes beautifully handcrafted wooden toys made by the woodworkers and finished by residents of Touchmark before being wrapped in cellophane and finished off with bows. The toys are given to Deschutes Children’s Foundation to distribute to Head Start, the Deschutes County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program, and Healthy Families.

About 50 residents participate as part of the Life Enrichment program at Touchmark. For the girls, there are cradles, which are sanded and stained by Jim Levin and his crew. Kay Shockley heads up a group of 10-12 women who meet an hour a week year-round to knit, crochet, and sew quilts and blankets plus pillows and mattresses for the cradles. Each cradle is fully outfitted with bedding and a brand-new baby doll to delight some little girl.

Jack Keeney marshals the sanders and painters who finish the toy airplanes, modeled after the biplane flown by the Lafayette Escadrille in World War I. Keeney said a group of about 14 residents worked for 16 days to finish the planes. There were originally 49, but two “got shot down somewhere over France.”

At last week’s celebration, there were 47 planes and 26 cradles ready to make some special memories. Dana Eng of the COW group made 30 of the planes himself with production-line efficiency. The good feelings experienced by all who participated in the project were palpable in the room as a video showing all the stages of production was shown. Everyone agreed the project is a “labor of love” that gets better every year.

“These toys are going to such a good cause,” said Sisters woodworker Dennis Mills. “These kids probably wouldn’t get any presents if not for these toys. It hits you hard in the chest.”

The collaborative effort began six years ago when all the woodworkers were part of COW, until the people from Sisters split off and formed their own group. Now both groups contribute to the Christmas effort. The program got a big boost this year from Hardwood Industries in Bend with a donation of 250 board feet of poplar lumber from which to craft the toys.

Representatives of each of the agencies shared stories of the impact the toys have on the recipients. Healthy Families provides family support services that are aimed at preventing child abuse. They build relationships with families through weekly visits for up to three years.

Their representative shared the story of a family with three children and mental health issues, living in a two-bedroom single-wide mobile home. Their only heat came from a small woodstove with a broken door. Despite being here legally, the father was fearful of being deported. Their transportation was unreliable and they were lacking adequate clothing and food. Toys and enrichment activities were beyond their means. Last Christmas, the youngest girl received a cradle and doll, having never had a doll before. The mother referred to it as the little girl’s heirloom.

Head Start, whose motto is “Healthy minds, healthy learners,” provides free, parent-driven preschool programs for low-income children. Head Start and Early Head Start offer family-centered services that enhance social competence, school readiness, and overall health and well-being. There are nine sites in Central Oregon, and one family from each location will be chosen to receive the toys.

Kathy Malone, who volunteers as a CASA for children in foster care, talked about little Katie who received a cradle and doll. The doll was the first thing she would bring out every time Malone visited. It was the one thing she could take with her if she got moved to a different family.

Two years ago, three brothers in foster care each received one of the airplanes. They were frequently moved for foster placement and the planes always moved with them. They have finally found their forever home in northeast Oregon with their adoptive family.

“We get to take the love you’ve put into the toys and share it with the children,” Malone told the toymakers.

The afternoon concluded with a reception including hors d’oeuvres, wine, and beer, where woodworkers and crafters swapped stories.


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