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Santa’s workshop

Seabrook ‘elves’ make gifts for children and adults

Created date

December 16th, 2014
(From left) Jack Cunningham, Claude Allen, and Ivan Metzger build and donate miniature toy cars to children in impoverished countries and areas of the U.S.
(From left) Jack Cunningham, Claude Allen, and Iva

Santa’s elves don’t just live at the North Pole. You can also find them at Erickson Living community in Tinton Falls, N.J.

Seabrook’s woodworkers group builds and donates items for children, including toy cars and dollhouses; repairs furniture for neighbors; and makes gifts and trinkets. 

And during the holidays, they don red-and-white Santa’s caps while they work.

Gifts galore

This time of year, the woodshop is buzzing with activity. Neighbors can find unique gifts, from pens and puzzles to clocks and vases—all carved or built from wood and lovingly finished. And the proceeds from their purchase go toward various charitable funds.  

“Every year, we contribute around $3,000 to various funds,” says Jack Cunningham, one of the group’s members. 

Jack had never dabbled in woodworking until he moved to Seabrook 13 years ago. Now he’s one of the group’s most active members. 

That’s part of Seabrook’s draw—providing opportunities for people to do the things they’ve always wanted to try but couldn’t find the time. Thanks to Seabrook’s maintenance-free lifestyle, more than 40 residents utilize the woodshop, some more than others. 

Claude Allen, who has lived at Seabrook for 14 years, brought his woodworking experience with him when he moved. Now, he’s the “clock guru,” building and fixing clocks for neighbors. He’s also known for his dollhouse work. He built, decorated, and donated a Victorian-style house to the Ocean Grove Historical Society a few years back. 

Turning cars into smiles

A small subset of the 40-member group works year-round building wooden toy cars for impoverished children in Mexico, Africa, Haiti, and the southern United States. A Denver-based organization called Toys for God’s Kids distributes the cars.

Seabrook’s sister community, Wind Crest, located just outside of Denver, Colo., has produced more than 3,000 cars for the organization. When that group’s spokesperson, Lloyd Eicher, reached out to fellow Erickson Living communities seeking interest, Jack responded. 

Though the Seabrook group is just getting started, they built 15 cars for a church mission group from St. Paul’s in Ocean Grove headed to Haiti this past spring. 

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

“It’s a personal satisfaction of doing something that makes these kids smile,” says Lloyd. 

The organization, Toys for God’s Kids, sends photos and videos of the children when they receive their gifts. “It’s rewarding,” Lloyd says. “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.”

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.”

‘Home away from home’ 

Both Jack and Claude say Seabrook’s woodshop couldn’t be more well suited for their task. “We can’t think of a tool we don’t have that we would want,” Jack says. However, he adds, they enjoy making tools more efficient with wooden modifications. “Half of the fun here is coming up with tools to make things easier for us.”

Most of the tools and machines have been donated over the years, and some have been purchased, like their most recent addition, the lathe. They use funds accumulated from the one-time $50 club membership fee and proceeds from the sale of their gifts to purchase any tools, paints, or machinery needed.

They keep sharp tabs on the shop, constantly organizing, improving, and innovating with ideas from woodworking magazines. They even have a library of reference materials, including catalogues, magazines, videos, and DVDs on techniques and safety. 

Though their homes are just steps away from the shop, Jack says, “This is our home away from home.”

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