When you enjoy a hobby, you can never tell where it will take you or what it may become. This is something Mel Hartman has learned well.
In November 1989, Mel made a wooden truck for his one year old grandson. Within a week, Mel's two older grandsons wanted one. So, Mel gathered up some more oak scraps and made nine more trucks. His two older grandsons each kept one and gave the others to friends as Christmas gifts.
Stories started coming back to Mel that the grandsons' friends really liked the trucks. In fact, one friend's mother stained and varnished the truck that her son received, put it on the mantel and told her son not to play with it because, "You don't see toys this nice any more." Well, that certainly wasn't Mel's goal.
During this same Christmas season there were appeals by Toys for Tots and several other agencies for toys to give away to needy children. There also appeared on television a story of a man who made a pickup load of wooden toys and gave the to Toys for Tots. This was the match that kindled the fire. Recalling the comments of his grandsons and their friends, the appeals and the man with the pickup load of toys, Mel decided that he would make two pickup loads by Christmas 1990
Mel decided the toys had to be well made, liked by kids and safe. If the kids didn't like the toy, or it didn't hold up while being played with, it was either redesigned or eliminated.
By March of 1990, Mel had made a lot of sawdust, not to mention quite a number of toys. One was three piece train set that had to be painted. It was real popular with the grandkids and Mel knew other kids would like it as well. Since Mel loved woodworking and not painting, he needed to find someone who loved to paint. He thought of the Blaine Senior Center. These retired citizens care about children and some of them might want to paint toys.
Mary Ann Young of the Blaine Senior Center agreed with Mel, and invited him to talk to the seniors about it. His presentation went well, but only one lady volunteered to help. Mel was puzzled. He later found out that several seniors wrongly thought he was going to sell the toys and pocket the money. However an 82 year old man named Don LaVoi got involved and quickly dispelled the notion. From then on the toys started to accumulate as more volunteers got involved. Other volunteers were recruited from several local churches. By Christmas of 1990 this small idea had grown beyond all expectations. over 1500 toys were made, enough to fill half a dozen pickup trucks. Toys were distributed to Father Flanagan's Boys Town, Children's Home Society, Anoka County Head Start, and Sharing and Caring Hands among other agencies. That Christmas morning there were a lot of young children enjoying the fruits of our labor. There were also a number of volunteers with warm hearts on Christmas Day as they thought of the kids they had helped.
Two days after Christmas 1990, production started on toys for 1991. Almost twenty different toys are now being made, including a doll high chair, a doll cradle, a doll chair, a waddling duck and a step stool.
By this time the group had grown to the point they needed some organization. They became incorporated, naming the group T.L.C. Toys. They applied for Federal Tax Exempt Status (501(c)3), which was granted in October of 1991.
Word of our toys has now spread to many agencies and the number of requests for our toys grows each year. Our goal is to fulfill as many of these requests as possible. At present, we are supporting over 35 different agencies as they work to support the less fortunate children of our area.
It's hard to know who benefits more from TLC Toys, the children who receive them or the volunteers who make them. Two things we do know, more and more volunteers are joining the effort and more and more requests for toys are coming in.class="auto-style3"
TLC now has about fifty members, many of whom are seniors. Tomorrow there will be more. Each year the toys made by TLC shows the love and talents of the volunteers and shows the needy children that there really are people who care.
There is something to do for everyone and anyone who wants to get involved. People work in Mel's woodshop cutting and sanding, some do assembly work at Mel's home, while others take things home to work on. There's a spot for everyone no matter what their talents or interests. Some people put in a few hours, others put in a lot of hours. For more information please feel free to contact one of our officers or any TLC member. If we can help you, or if you can help us - please let us hear from you.