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Article updated: 12/10/2012 11:48 AM

DuPage Woodworkers craft toys year-round to give to needy children at Christmas

By Susan Dibble

Santa's elves aren't the only ones who work all year making gifts for girls and boys. DuPage Woodworkers recently displayed some of the 4,077 toys they crafted this year to give to needy children at Christmas.

"That's the satisfaction -- knowing the kids are going to get something for Christmas," said Rick Ogren of Downers Grove, one of the club's toy czars. "They get really excited."

Among the toys spread on tables at the club's late November meeting were wooden cars, trucks, helicopters, crayon holders, miniature merry-go-rounds, puzzles, keepsake boxes, sets of zoo and farm animals, finger tops, baby carriages, and dolls dressed in clothes and accessories made by club member Chris DeFilippo.

"What girl doesn't like to dress and undress her doll," she said.

DeFilippo of Elk Grove Village, who joined the club early this year as one of its minority number of female members, said she also had made cars and trucks and looks forward to making more different kinds of toys next year.

"All the things you can make, it's really neat," she said.

A large portion of the toys were given to St. James the Apostle Church in Glen Ellyn, which hosts the club's meetings. Deacon John Moeller of St. James said the church distributes the toys in its Christmas giving programs, especially to St. Teresa's Parish in Kankakee, which has more than 200 needy children.

"They've (the woodworkers) become a huge component of that," he said. "I can't believe how incredibly dedicated they are to this particular outreach."

The other toys are going to Humanitarian Service Project, Family Shelter Service in Downers Grove, the Darien Lions Club, and Midlothian Elementary District 143 for its developmentally delayed and at-risk youngsters.

Kristen Maxwell, assistant director of Humanitarian Service Project, said the toys are warmly welcomed by the younger children in impoverished families who receive a "Christmas Offering" of gifts and food from the Carol Stream-based charity.

"Many of them don't have their own toys," she said. "The toys are beautiful. They're made with a lot of love, you can tell."

Joanne Keilman, a Midlothian schoolteacher and school board member of District 143, said club members deliver toys for the 150 children in the developmental learning program and this year also will supply toys for at-risk prekindergarten youngsters.

"The kids get to come and pick the toys they want," she said. "They love the toys."

The animal-shaped crayon holders containing new crayons are a big hit as well as the toys with wheels, she said.

"We have mostly boys in our program. They really like the cars and trucks. That and the helicopters," she said.

Club member and toy czar Stan Anderson of Sugar Grove said the woodworkers started with making 30 or 40 toys to give away a half-dozen years ago. Last year, they made and gave away 2,586 toys and this year made nearly 1,500 more. The toys are designed for children ages 2 to 8 years.

"After that, the kids are into computers and electronic things," he said.

Made with basic power tools like table saws, scroll saws and drill presses, the toys are left unpainted to avoid costly federal regulations that would require that any paint used be tested for lead. The woodworkers make the toys out of leftover pieces in their own workshops and some suppliers generously donate wood, Anderson said. Poplar is a favored material because it is a hardwood that is easily cut.

"We do not make heirloom toys because that would be very expensive and (they would) sit on the shelf. These are toys that kids can play with," Anderson said.

In addition to working individually, members gathered three times this year to make toys in assembly line fashion. Toys of the month with instructions on how to make them are included on the club's website. Anderson provides patterns that members can trace for making some of the most popular toys and some members design their own.

Anderson, 82, estimated he has made about 350 toys this year.

"(It's) keeping me busy," he said.

Ogren, a retired woodworking teacher, said a good percentage of the club's 190 members participate in the project.

"We buy a large volume of wheels and axles," he said.

Most members come from DuPage and Kane counties. They normally meet at 7 p.m. the fourth Wednesday of the month (except for July when the club holds an auction) at St. James the Apostle Church, 480 S. Park Blvd., Glen Ellyn. The club boasts the motto "Learning By Sharing," and all skills levels are welcome. Meetings include a "show and tell" time when members demonstrate their projects and the club also brings in experts to teach techniques

For information, call (630) 215-7482 or visit dupagewoodworkers.org.

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