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‘Smile makers’

Wind Crest woodworkers build toys for children both near and far

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June 23rd, 2014
men in a woodshop
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When it comes to giving, the Crest Windy Wooders give nearly 2,000 times over. The Highlands Ranch, Colo.-based woodworkers group builds and donates items for children, including wooden toy cars and intricate dollhouses. 

Turning cars into smiles

A small subset of the 51-member group works an assembly line every Monday to build wooden toy cars for impoverished children in Mexico, Africa, Haiti, and the southern U.S. Denver-based Toys for God’s Kids distributes the cars.

“The kids are usually in a foster care home or orphanage where they don’t have a lot of toys,” says club chairman John Lillie.

Shop manager Lloyd Eicher has lived at Wind Crest since 2007 and participated in the woodshop since it opened shortly after. He’s one of the six men who work the toy car assembly line. “It’s a personal satisfaction of doing something that makes these kids smile,” he says. 

Lloyd says they call themselves the “smile makers,” and for good reason. The organization sends photos and videos of the children when they receive their gifts. “It’s rewarding. It means more to an impoverished child to receive one of these cars because, unlike many children in the U.S., they don’t have a room full of toys. They may just have one or two.”

The Windy Wooders have been building toy cars for over a year and have made around 1,800 cars to date, including one order for 800 cars and another for 300. Toys for God’s Kids has distributed more than 750,000 toy cars, according to the website toysforgodskids.com.

“Lloyd has been a spokesman for us,” says John, who also builds the cars. “He led us to the two large orders of 300 and 800.”

Toys for every child

John says other orders come from various church groups who have heard of their efforts. “If they’re going on a mission trip, they’ll place an order to bring some cars with them,” John says.

Despite the organization’s name, Toys for God’s Kids makes no religious distinction regarding the recipients of its toys, and each car has a “Made in the U.S.A.” stamp or license plate.

The Wind Crest group gets scrap wood from local cabinetry shops and finishes each car by sanding and applying a mineral oil finish to prevent it from drying or cracking. John says an assembly line of five to six woodworkers takes about 20 minutes to complete a car from start to finish. 

Mixing business with pleasure

While the six-man subset works on wooden toys, many other Wind Crest Wooders build for pleasure or for the benefit of neighbors. “We do a lot of repair and modification projects for neighbors, as well as a number of community projects,” says John. 

The group has built a lectern, bookcases for the community library, a table, and display cabinets for the community stained-glass club. 

“There is a lot of teamwork [in the woodshop], but also a lot of individual projects,” John says. “One man made a hutch for his apartment and a sewing table for his wife.”

Another—Len Hilgartner—creates wooden bowls from a process called segmented turning. Other members utilize the woodshop for other creative endeavors, such as model trains or stained glass. 

When they’re not building, they’re learning. Local companies give workshops on topics such as furniture reupholstering or finishing. And whether woodworking is old hat or a new hobby, John says they all continue to sharpen their skills. 

Most of all, John says, it’s the camaraderie that keeps them coming back. “It’s really fun. Sometimes, it slows down a project or two, but it makes it fun,” he says.

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