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Senior group to make toys for kids in need

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Toy trains, planes and automobiles and more — all made of wood with love — all in the name of the mission to help a sick or needy child, is what a new group at The Center, formerly known as the Lakes Area Senior Activity Center, will do.

The Center’s wood carving group Oct. 2 learned the process from the expert, Bruce Gilbert, who recently became a Nisswa resident and is a longtime member of ToyMakers, a non-profit group that makes simple wooden toys for sick and needy children. All the toys are designed to be safe and contain no nails, screws or staples. The toys also use child-safe paint and have rounded corners.

The wood carving group is enlisting volunteers to be part of the new group called The Center’s ToyMakers to help make the wooden toys.

Gilbert was approached by a Lakewood Evangelical Free Church member about helping The Center with starting a ToyMakers’ group. Gilbert was happy to share his knowledge with the wood carvers so they can help the sick and needy children. Gilbert has been part of the ToyMakers group in Florida since 1999. Gilbert said the Florida group donates between 1,500 to 2,000 toys four times a year to children’s hospital, Ronald McDonald houses and other local agencies. He said the Brainerd group will be able to make the toys for their local non-profit organizations that they see fit that will help children involved in trauma.

“This organization began when a man and his wife had their daughter in the children’s hospital and there were no toys,” said Gilbert. “They made toys and brought it to the hospital and started the non-profit.”

All the materials and money are donated to ToyMakers and they also looks for scraps to use for the toys.

Gilbert brought his toy patterns to The Center for the wood carving group to make their own patterns. Patterns include cars, puzzle pieces, trucks, an ambulance, fire trucks, police vehicles, a bulldozer, rocking horse and even a doll. He also donated scraps of wood and wheels to the Brainerd group to give them a head start on their project.

George Sommerfeld of Brainerd, a member of the wood carving group at The Center, said, “I think this is a good thing. I hope we can get enough people to do this. There is always a need for kids to have toys.

“These toys should be pretty simple to make. I do a lot of wood working.”

Dick Carlson of Nisswa said, “This is a good idea and it gives the ones who don’t know how to carve, something else to do outside the group. There will be a lot of sanding, painting, gluing and cutting.”

Ron Kulla of Baxter has been do wood carving for five years is looking forward to making the simple wooden toys for needy children.

“This is a good deal,” said Kulla.

Bonnie Mattraw of Lake Shore and Alice Bollum of Brainerd also are members of the wood carving group and look forward to the project. Mattraw said that she makes wooden toys when she spends her winters in Arizona. Bollum said she likes to carve and does a lot of animals and wooden spoons. Bollum said she doesn’t like the finishing part of the product, but joked that she’ll talk someone else to finish her toys.

Bollum said, “This is a great idea. We donate a lot at our church, especially sending stuff overseas.

The Center’s ToyMakers will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesdays in the wood shop on the fourth floor of the center.

DeAnn Barry, executive director of the senior center, said “I hope there is a lot of interest in this new group. It’s great to see the wood carving group take on another community project. This is a great way for us to give back to the kids in the community.”

Those interested in joining the group can contact Barry at the center at 829-9345. Barry said the toys would be donated to organizations in the Brainerd lakes area. Barry said they also are looking for donations of wood scraps, Minwax varnish, lead-free paint, paint brushes and money to purchase wooden wheels and other needed items.

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851. Follow me on Twitter at