Busier than Santa’s elves

Handcrafted toys from Highland Springs sure to delight children this holiday season

Created date

November 22nd, 2019
Elze Hemmen designed a new toy, a car carrier, to add to Highland Springs’ annual toy donation to Fort Hood’s Operation Once in a Lifetime.

Elze Hemmen designed a new toy, a car carrier, to add to Highland Springs’ annual toy donation to Fort Hood’s Operation Once in a Lifetime.

Never was there a more diligent workshop crew than the one at Highland Springs, where community members teamed up to make more than 350 toys this holiday season.

Highland Springs, the Erickson Living-managed community in North Dallas, has been a hive of activity in recent months as woodworkers, artists, and seamstresses pooled their talents to craft firetrucks, doll cradles, and car carriers, which will be donated to children through Fort Hood’s Operation Once in a Lifetime program and to the Collin County Children’s Advocacy Center.

“Over the past ten years, we’ve donated 1,500 cradles and 750 toy fire trucks,” says Sam Davidson, chair of the Highland Springs Woodchucks. “We also donate 2,000 small handcrafted toys to three area children’s hospitals throughout the year.”

This year’s holiday donation includes 150 fire trucks and 200 dolls and cradles, as well as a handful of car carriers, the newest toy to be crafted in the Highland Springs woodshop.

Elze Hemmen, who moved to Highland Springs in 2009, designed the prototype for the car carrier.

“I saw a similar toy and thought kids would enjoy a truck they could use to transport their toy cars,” says Elze, an engineer who worked in design and research for universities, medical centers, and Space Center Houston. “I built several prototypes until I got it just right.”

For Elze, the project is an extension of the work he did throughout his career.

“I made precision instruments, so I’ve been in machine shops all my life,” he says. “I don’t know what I’d do if we didn’t have the woodshop at Highland Springs. It’s a great asset to the community.”

Peggy James moved to Highland Springs in July 2019 from Arlington and soon found her way to the community’s woodshop.

“I had a shop in my home and saw this one at Highland Springs before I moved in,” says Peggy, who applied decals to the fire engines. “This is a fun project that’s easy to get excited about.”

Toy-making runs through most of the year, as production begins every February.

“People all across the community lend their talents to this project,” says Sam. “Woodworkers make the fire engines, car carriers, and cradles in the woodshop. Sewers make the dolls, cradle mattresses, and blankets. Artists put finishing touches on the toys.”

Everyone working together

Charlene McFee headed up this year’s doll-making efforts, taking over from Anna Holt, who’s run the operation since 2009.

“This is my first year to participate in this project,” says Charlene, who moved to Highland Springs with her husband Fred in October 2018. “I think the kids will love the toys.”

Charlene says the project is a testament to the teamwork it takes to create handmade toys.

“Audrey Couvillon paints the dolls’ faces,” says Charlene. “Peggy Gesin heads up the bonnet-making, Sally Davidson is in charge of the diapers, Claudia Bird oversees the blankets, and Norma Hill takes care of the mattresses. Not to mention all the fabric cutters and sewers, who contribute their time and efforts.”

Charlene’s inherent interest in the doll-making project stems from her former career as a sewing shop owner.

“I have two sewing machines and a serger in my apartment, so the dolls are a good fit for me,” she says.

Over the years, the toy donation initiative has gathered momentum, becoming an efficient, self-sustaining endeavor.

“We hold a toy sale in the late fall,” says Sam. “Residents ‘purchase’ a toy and then donate it to Operation Once in a Lifetime and the Children’s Advocacy Center. That way, we can continue to purchase wood, fabric, and other supplies needed to build toys for next year.”