Local senior woodworking group builds toys for underprivileged children

They make little cars, big cars, little trucks, dump trucks, log trucks, doll cradles, high chairs, trains, planes, helicopters — the list goes on and on. And for the past three years, the list has continued to grow.

“If it can be made out of wood and it’s a toy, we’ve done it,” said Tom Barnes, who started the Sawdust Experience woodworking group. by: GARY ALLEN - Working with wood - The Sawdust Experience group includes (from left to right) Gordon Hont, Kenny Austin, Tom Barnes, Bob Travers and Paulino Rojas. The group spends their free time making wooden toys and wood kits for children.

The group creates and donates wooden toys to the Newberg Fire Department for its Toy and Joy program. Barnes said he started the program in October 2011 for that purpose and with eight members they successfully made 105 toys for needy children the first year.

He said last year they made 204 toys and hope for even more this year.

“But this year we shifted focus a little bit,” Barnes said.

For the first time the group created bird house and bug house kits for the Tilikum Retreat Center. Harlan Hoyt, who died several weeks ago, brought the idea to the group after making similar kits for children in California.

“We did about 150 of them. We are outreach-to-youth-focused this year, trying to instill a love of woodworking in children,” he said. “This focus on activities for youngsters has been very rewarding. To see something we’ve made given to a child and then watch that child build this thing, it’s just very rewarding.”

Three of the members have woodshops, but finding a space wasn’t easy.

“We tried unsuccessfully to get into the Chehalem Valley Middle School because they had wood shop, but they didn’t have the right tools, so we ended up helping the shop teacher with projects they are working on,” he said. “I had considered donating all my tools to the senior center if they could do something to build a shop where everybody could work, but it just didn’t happen. They couldn’t build the space.”

Now, they meet two or three at a time in one of the three members’ shops to build toys.

With 13 members, they meet twice a month for coordinating purposes at the Chehalem Senior Center.

“We go over where we’re at and what’s next and who’s going to do what,” Barnes said of the planning sessions. “Some things are painted by the crafty ladies group that meets there, so we maintain that connection with the senior center.”

None of the donations would be possible without Beaudry’s Custom Woodworking, Barnes said.

“They save end cuts for us that we pick up every week,” he said. “A lot of it is really beautiful wood.”

Take the five cranes he just finished building. Each has a walnut base, which can cost $8 a board foot.

“It’s a pretty big chunk of walnut,” Barnes said. “If Beaudry’s didn’t donate it we wouldn’t be able to afford to build them.”

The donations also mean those who don’t have any woodworking experience can learn the trade.

“Three of the people don’t have any experience, but they have gained a lot since they’ve been in the group,” he said. “We offer that at the center: If you want to learn, we will teach you.”

The Sawdust Experience meets from 4 to 5:30 p.m. the first and third Thursday of every month at the Chehalem Senior Center.

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