CLEAR LAKE, Minn. — We are still a couple of months away from holiday toy shopping, but a group of volunteers in Clear Lake never stops making gifts for kids.
"It is kind of Santa's workshop," volunteer Suzie Maus said.
In the middle of a pole shed, you'll find volunteers like Maus, a retired teacher who is still using her free time to help kids, albeit in a much different way.
"To be able to continue to be a part of that has been a pleasure," Maus said. "We are putting in wheels and axles on the cars."
You could say she's part of an automotive assembly line, but at a much smaller scale. It's the brainchild of Gary Garberg.
"I said, I've got a pole building, it's got a wood shop in it, we can start this in Minnesota," Garberg said.
He got the idea for Midwest Wooden Toys after coming across a similar concept while living in Las Vegas. The premise is to supply law enforcement officers with cars and trucks, that they in turn give to families and kids in distress. Like at accident scenes.
"Kids are upset. They go to the cars and take out a couple of toys and they give them to the kids and they make a world of difference," Garberg said.
When the volunteers really get going, they can make about 200 wooden toys a week. Pickup trucks tend to be the most popular.
They've become so well-received that Midwest Wooden Toys now works with police and sheriff's departments across Sherburne County, and they're expanding. The State Patrol just placed their biggest order yet, requesting about 3,000 toys.
"More toys than we made in our best season so far," Garberg said.
Thankfully, all the materials and time are donated. That includes an endless amount of oak that Travis Williams donates. For him, this was the best solution to an oak wilt problem on his property.
"He'll call me up and tell me about an order that he needs, and I'll get working in the mill, and in a day or two I can bring over the skid steer, a big pallet of oak, and he's just excited," volunteer Travis Williams said.
Excited because Garberg knows, in the end, it's the kids who benefit.
"Can you see the smile on my face all the time? It's just a labor of love and none of these people have to do this," Garberg said.
Just like Williams donates oak wood, the Clear Lake Lions Club donates money for materials. They make 30 different car and truck models and they supply them in six-packs. Garberg says they are always looking for more volunteers to help.
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