SANTA ROSA -- A Santa Rosa man has found a creative way to raise money for needy Bay Area families by using his passion in life to construct his own way of giving.
From his workshop in his home garage, Frank Wheeler saws small pieces to create what will become a wooden bowl, one of the hundreds of beautiful, quality crafts he has built in recent years.
The 86-year-old carpenter has built his own house and remodeled kitchens in his career.
"I bought my first table saw when I was 15," he said.
These days, his projects are smaller, but the impact is much larger. The money he has raised from the sale of his creations has served the needy across five North Bay counties.
"It makes me feel good and happy," he explained.
All the pieces came together a few years ago. At the time, his Early Ford V8 Club was raising money for the local food bank. So Wheeler packed up the 1939 Ford Woody Station Wagon he built himself and he started his own traveling "store."
"Every horizontal surface in our house was covered with this stuff that I'd made, so I decided I'd better give it away," he said of his wooden creations.
He sells his handcrafted items from the trunk of his vehicle for $100 apiece. All the money goes to the Redwood Empire Food Bank.
People snap up his wooden boxes, pumpkins, dozers, and trucks, some with removable surf boards.
"I have been very pleased and surprised that people are really initerested, really appreciate it," he said.
Wheeler takes his mobile store to car shows, Bodega Head, and wherever he and his wife happen to drive all year long.
"At the grocery store the other day, some lady wanted to look at the car, so I opened it up and let her see what we had," he said.
Wheeler's wooden creations have raised nearly $40,000 in the last two years for the food bank, according to development director Lisa Cannon. The food bank said it served a record 38,000 households in October.
"What's really cool about what Frank is doing is that he's showing people that you can come up with clever ideas to give back to the Redwood Empire Food Bank," Cannon said.
"Every dollar donated, we can distribute four dollars worth of groceries so that's making a very big impact," she added.
That's $160,000 in groceries coming from Wheeler's donations.
"It's really neat. That's what keeps me going," said Wheeler. "People to seem to enjoy what I have."
Today, 90% of the wood Wheeler uses is now donated so he can keep feeding his hobby to feed people in need.
So for exchanging his handcrafted wood projects for food bank donations, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Frank Wheeler.
Note: Wheeler does not have a website or regular hours or locations for his rolling store. The best way of contacting him is through the Redwood Empire Food Bank at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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