Wood shop students build toys for tots

Making toys is more than just an assignment for students at Kansas high school

Caroline Trupp
Students at wood shop classes at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, Kan., create toys that will be given to the popular Toys for Tots campaign.

For the past three years, the Woodshop Two class has been making and giving away wooden car toys through Toys for Tots, an organization geared towards helping underprivileged children.

Woodshop teacher Darren Masten got the idea to start participating in Toys for Tots from an old friend who was doing it in his own class.

“A few years ago, another teacher told me that he did a unit where the kids learned about the manufacturing process, the whole process of building something, teamwork and group dynamics,” Masten said. “He was actually building toys for Toys for Tots.”

After Masten found out about the organization, he presented the idea to his Woodshop Two classes and was thrilled to find out that the students were more than willing to create toys for children in need. According to Masten, each year he opens the idea up to the class and lets them choose what type of toy they want to make. For the last three years, each class has made a model car. The class goes through a two to three week unit to talk about what the manufacturing process means in the real world. Among the learning, the classes are make and donate 120 to 150 toys.

“We started creating toys, but we were also meeting the curriculum we needed to meet,” Masten said. “It was like killing two birds with one stone.”

If we can use our skills and our gifts to take just a little time and make some little one’s day, there’s no better feeling in the world.”

— Woodshop teacher Darren Masten

Masten said that although the learning material is important, and meeting the criteria for the class is crucial, what he and his students take from assignment is much bigger than just building toys.

“I was the child that was wondering if they were going to get anything for Christmas,” Masten said. “So just the fact that the students jump on board and actually do something for someone else and ask nothing in return, and we’ve never even met the kids, is awesome.”

Masten said that what he truly enjoys about the assignment is the kindness and heart he sees from his students.

“I’ve been here since the school opened, and this school, however it was created, is a really giving culture,” Masten said. “Any time there is a need, kids just jump on board. I’m blessed to work at this school.”

The Toys for Tots representative for Northwest also represents all of Eastern Kansas. Masten said the representative is a former marine who comes in and collects all the toys made by the students, and occasionally will come in and speak to the students about how much of an impact is left on the children in need.

Masten argued that TV’s past publicity of Northwest Woodshop students making the toys defeats the purpose of the charity.

“I’d rather us be anonymously giving, just for the sake of giving,” Masten said.

Junior Woodshop Two student Austin Edmondson said after students get past the idea of learning about the manufacturing process, it turns into a group of students working together to create something for someone else, with no benefits in the end for themselves.

“What I really enjoyed about it was that some of these kids don’t get presents at all, and to know that what I created, what we have created as a class, is going towards underprivileged orphans and kids,” Edmondson said. “That just kind of means something to me. It’s definitely more a lesson that it is an assignment.”

The students making the toys never get to see the children that receive their toys – no names or pictures. According to both Edmondson and Masten, instead of being upset about not being able to see the kids, it only makes the assignment all the more meaningful.

“You really don’t know who it’s going to, this is really just out of the goodness of your heart,” Edmondson said. “You don’t know who will receive this, you don’t know their situation; all you know is that you’re going to make a kid’s day happy.”

Edmondson said that the work assigned to the students for Toys for Tots differs from other assignments the class does throughout the semester. He said that for other assignments it was nice to accomplish something and have something to look at, but that this assignment was something that someone else gets to look at.

“[The assignment] teaches us to give to others and not only think about ourselves,” Edmondson said. “But to think about how privileged we are as a community honestly, and how fifteen minutes away, where these cars [full of toys] are probably going, they definitely are not as privileged as we are.”

Although it only takes a few weeks out of the semester, Masten said that just seeing students donating their time to work, create and make something that will benefit others, without any reward for themselves, is something he takes a lot of pride in.

“It takes very little time to make someone else’s day, and if we can use our skills and our gifts to take just a little time and make some little one’s day, there’s no better feeling in the world,” Masten said. “It’s the greatest thing ever.”

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