Santa’s Helpers handcrafted 450 toys to be distributed at Waushara Industries to children in need during the Waushara County Community Christmas Project. Pictured are volutneers: (back row): Tom Stepanek, Guy Henke, Garlon Peterson, Dale Simonson, Chuck Brownlow and Lars Anderson; (front row): Heather Anderson, Landon Anderson and Marcia Riendeau.  Not pictured:  Craig Starkweather and Fran Perry.

Santa’s Helpers work all year to make toys for Community Christmas Project

In early January, when most people have packed away their Christmas decorations and won’t be thinking about Christmas for another 10 months, eight of Santa’s Helpers will gather together religiously every Wednesday night, for the next 11 months, in a small woodworking shop just outside of Wild Rose. With enthusiasm and camaraderie, they will begin the process of handcrafting toys for children who will benefit from the 2018 Waushara County Community Christmas Project, which distributes toys and other gifts to those families who are struggling to make ends meet.

Throughout 2017, the men made toy swings, doll high chairs, school buses, cars, log-hauling trucks, checker boards and games for teens, marionettes, airplanes, doll cradles, ice cream trucks, toy bobcats and skidders, motorcycles, buddy stools, trains, jeeps and more, totaling over 450 gifts. Members of the Mt. Morris Holden Lutheran Church also made and donated dolls, cradle quilts, and other toys that will embellish some of the toys that Santa’s Helpers have created.

On Dec. 6 Santa’s Helpers will meet at the workshop, pack and load their vehicles for the next day delivery to Waushara Industries and sit down to eat pizza to celebrate another successful year. After delivering the toys on Dec. 7, the group will continue their tradition of meeting for breakfast at a local restaurant to make plans for next year.

“We actually decide what toys were popular and which were not and then decide which toys we should eliminate or make more of,” said Tom Stepanek, one of Santa’s Helpers. “One year we made some manure spreaders; they didn’t go well; we figured out that kids didn’t know what they were, so we eliminated them from production.”

“We like to make interactive toys,” he added. “We put ‘people’ in the bus and ‘drivers’ in the cars.”

Stepanek, who is a retired Wild Rose music and band teacher, got the idea to create toys for the Community Christmas Project when his former pastor, Todd Murken, encouraged members of his church, Mt. Morris Holden Lutheran, to form Bible study groups or other groups that could provide a ministry to others.

As a result, Stepanek and a few other men began gathering together at his workshop in October 2011, working diligently for 2 ½ months to make approximately 80 toys for the Community Christmas Project. They took a week or two off and then started right back making toys for the 2012 project, committed to bringing joy to those children who are less fortunate than others.

The five men who started their toy-making ministry has now grown to eight, with the 80 toys they first created in 2011 increasing to 450 this year. Stepanek, Garlon Peterson and Dale Simonson were with the original group from the beginning, while Rollie Ode and Mike Anderson have passed away. “They were great guys,” Stepanek said. “We miss them a lot.”

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