Seventy of Santa’s helpers in Reno have been hard at work this year making thousands of high-quality wooden toys, hurrying to get them distributed to local charities before Christmas.
These Santa’s helpers belong to the Nevada Woodchucks, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching woodworking skills to adults in Northern Nevada, Truckee, and Lake Tahoe. The Nevada Woodchucks, founded in 1987, includes special groups that focus on carving, scroll saw, and toy making with demonstrations of hands-on training and discussions of tools and techniques. The Woodchucks work tirelessly making toys designed specifically for children ages 3 to 8. All the wood in the shop is donated, and the majority comes from local cabinet shops’ scraps or products ordered in error.
This year, the shop produced 50 doll cradles, complete with a doll and blanket. Once cut, sanded, stained, and assembled, the cradles are given to a group of volunteers who paint them with flowers and embellishments. Other toys made by the Woodchucks include spin tops, cars, trucks, and a stick horse made from recycled pool cues from local billiard halls.
Three years ago, Shirley Gilletti was invited by her neighbor to attend a Nevada Woodchucks meeting. When Gilletti learned that the handmade toys went to underprivileged children, she joined the Woodchucks and its toy group.
“I wanted to do something worthwhile and there are so many good people here,” said Gilletti, who now has a woodshop in her garage.
Jim Allen, a long-time member, makes wooden rocking dogs, motorcycles, and horses. Allen’s fellow group members describe his work, which takes a huge amount of time and devotion, as priceless. Allen was touched when he donated a rocking dog to a special needs camp in Lake Tahoe and later received a photo of a child on it with a thank you letter.
Gene Welch, a retiree from the Truckee Fire Protection District, has been a Nevada Woodchuck for six years and is currently the president elect. “I enjoy making toys for charities and assisting people in the group without woodworking experience,” said Welch.
The Woodchucks faced some tribulations this year. Its clubhouse, which housed the woodshop, was located on the Truckee River in a flood zone. The Truckee River Flood Authority recently bought the land and paid for the Woodchucks to move so the building could be torn down. But during the move, the old shop was broken into and tools, wood, and on-going projects were stolen. As a result, the Woodchucks lost about three months of work time and only made 2,000 toys instead of the usual 2,400.
Having much higher rent — the previous space was only $100 a month — the Woodchucks are working on a budget and applying for grants. Recently, the Washoe Valley’s 100+ Woman Who Care donated $2,500 to the Woodchucks, and for the past few years the Woodchuck’s wooden hot air balloons have been raffled off at the Great Reno Balloon Race to help pay for expenses.
The Woodchucks are always looking for new members, tools, and wood to keep their Santa toyshop in production.
Info: To donate to the Woodchucks or to learn more, call (775) 453-4543 or visit nevadawoodchucks.org.
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