SPANISH FORK Santa only makes deliveries once a year, but a Utah Valley group that builds and ships toy cars around the world year-round is giving him a proverbial run for his money as the top toymaker.
Spanish Fork resident Sheril Hill, 75, and a volunteer force of about a dozen senior men, plus one woman, gather weekly in a garage to cut, sand and paint toy cars for needy children. "A Toy is Joy," as they like to call themselves, has been shipping toys to children in countries such as Bolivia, Haiti and Mexico for more than four years, Hill said.
To date, they've built 14,000 cars, and they don't plan on closing shop anytime soon.
"There's no reason for us to quit," he said. "We want to be totally used up before we leave this life."
The group all members of the Spanish Fork 3rd Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses scraps of wood donated by Utah County businesses. A handful of the volunteers cut the cars with band saws during the week, then they congregate on Wednesday afternoons at their workshop near 650 W. 300 North to sand, polish and paint the cars.
In any given work session, they finish about 100 cars, according to Bob Christensen, the group's tally master. But production never trumps quality control, Hill said.
"These kids are worth a car that's really sturdy," he said.
Most of the cars are sent out with LDS humanitarian groups, but Hill said they're more than happy to supply cars to anyone who'll pass them out to needy children. Val J. Anderson, a Brigham Young University professor of plant and wildlife science, often takes hundreds of cars with him when he goes abroad, Hill said. Anderson often sends back pictures of children in Third World countries holding up brightly painted cars or playing with their new toys on concrete-paved streets. Hill hasn't had the chance to go abroad to pass out cars, but he enjoys looking at pictures sent back to the workshop.
"Some of these children have never had a toy in their lives," Hill said. "For some of these kids, it may be the only toy they ever have."
Hill said he's always had a "soft spot for children," but it grew especially tender during his time in Korea right after the war where gangs of starving children swarmed him every day. Soon he made a practice of giving them any leftover food, he said. Since then he's tried to bring a little bit of happiness to children's lives.
"What can one man do?" he asked, then quickly answered, "You do what you can."
The other volunteers are equally committed to the task, Hill said, and rarely miss a work session. Christensen, who's personally installed some 56,000 wheels, said he didn't even dodge out on his duty when he was undergoing chemotherapy.
"That's not easy to say," he said.While the wood and most of the paint is donated, the group needs to cover the costs of the other materials and machinery they use. Anyone who would like to donate or would like to pass cars out to needy Utah County children this Christmas should get in touch with LDS Bishop Mike Bennett at 66 W. 350 North in Spanish Fork.