A very nice article about our toy program appeared in the Metro section of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH on August 31, 2006. It is included here by permission.
The 75-year-old man drove for two hours through a misty gray morning, with plastic bags filled with toys on the floorboard of his minivan.
John Patton pulled up to St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in Creve Coeur, where his wife, Helen, climbed out of the van and went inside. She took the elevator to the seventh floor, walked into an empty office and sat a bag of toys on a desk.
“It’s seldom that there’s someone here,” she said. “So I just drop them off.”
For the past 12 years, Patton and a group of woodworkers have quietly crafted toys and activity kits for children at local hospitals. Other than a handful of thank you notes, they’ve received little recognition for their labor. And the vast majority have never met the children who enjoy their work.
The number of toys delivered to date: 21,644.
The toy makers are members of the St. Louis Woodworkers’ Guild, and a dozen regularly contribute to the toy program.
After delivering toys to several hospitals on a recent Tuesday, Patton walked through his Crestwood home, pointing out what he and others have made during the years. There were tugboats and sailboats, cats, cars and a helicopter. There was a mouse with a tail made from a piece of twine.
He gestured to an elaborate wooden puzzle on the bar in his basement.
“We made 20 or 30 of these one year,” he said.
On that morning, his delivery included 124 wooden airplanes, trinket boxes, mice and cats.
The story of how the toy effort began is surrounded in a bit of myth.
According to some members of the woodworkers guild, Patton started the toy program after his granddaughter became ill. Seeing how much she and other children needed ways to occupy their time, he created the guild’s toy committee.
Not so, says Patton, a retired engineer.
Another member no longer with the organization started the program, he said. Yes, he had a granddaughter who was born prematurely and spent nearly a year in a neonatal unit. But that was in 1995, a year after he started making the toys.
His reasons for being involved are much simpler.
“It gives me an activity,” Patton said. “I enjoy it. . . . They (the children) need activities.”
In the beginning, the woodworkers crafted and painted the toys, but soon the hospitals asked that they deliver them unfinished so that the children could paint them.
“It really helps motivate them out of their rooms,” said Alberta Lee, a child-life specialist at St. John’s.
Last week, one of her patients, Alex Mundwiller, 9, sat a table in a small room. His hands shook slightly from a breathing treatment he had just received. All week, he had been in and out of the hospital because of a severe asthma attack. He painted a pine car yellow. It reminded him of the ones he saw in Cub Scout pinewood derbies.
“Can we paint more than one?” he asked, gesturing to a wooden truck. “I kind of like that.”
When was he going home? Alex couldn’t say, but when he got there, he planned to put the car and truck on a shelf in his room.
While Alex painted, Lee pointed to an ornate spinning top fashioned from four types of wood. Lee gives them out as prizes.
Jerry Lammers, 73, the guild’s treasurer, makes between 100 and 130 of them a year.
In the basement of his Fenton home, he had glued together strips of maple, walnut, oak and cherry wood into a block. He spun the block on a lathe, using another tool to carve out the top’s shape. Sawdust flew.
“This is the trickiest part,” he said. “It takes a lot of practice.”
Lammers spends about 10 to 15 hours a month making the toy tops.
“I just thought it was good thing,” said Lammers, also a retired engineer. “When you retire, you look for things to volunteer.”
While he’s never seen any of the children delighting in his work, he takes satisfaction in the number of kids who have his creations. Over the years, Lammers estimates, he has given away 800 tops.
“There must be hundreds of kids in the area that have them,” he said.By Stephen Deere
Copyright: St. Louis Post-Dispatch