While Santa Claus may find the North Pole suits his workshop well, retired Army first sergeant Mike Sullivan makes a compelling argument for Desert Hot Springs, California.
The 72-year-old veteran and his wife Judy have been making toys in the woodshop behind their house for seven years. Planes, trains and automobiles, animals of all sizes, alphabet puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, and stacking toys for younger children; the Sullivans create all sorts of wooden gifts in their shop.
Come Christmas, they give the toys away to children in Coachella Valley.
This project started when Sullivan and his wife joined a woodworking club as a hobby. They were tasked with making a few children’s toys, and never stopped.
“We’re both in good health and are able to be out here six to seven days a week for eight to 10 hours,” Sullivan told CNN. “It’s so much fun, it feels like home here in the shop working things out.”
Mike is responsible for making sure the workshop has the tools and wood. He cuts and sands the toys, then passes them on to Judy, who decorated each piece and conducts her quality assurance inspection.
“I run my hands over all the toys and feel for something that’s not supposed to be there — a loose wheel or splinter,” Judy said. “The designs sort of come up in my head when I see the toys.”
the Sullivans have 15 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren who help, too. They serve as “toy testers,” sometimes getting a peek at their grandparents’ creations a few days before the big morning.
The couple’s efforts have been greatly appreciated this year, especially by local parents struggling to find work amidst pandemic pressure and economic downturn. By scheduling visits to their workshop and asking visitors to wear masks, the Sullivans are helping ensure a safe and happy Christmas for all.
For those who can’t visit Coachella Valley, the Sullivans have been shipping toys across the country, often on their own dime.
“As long as I can afford it, I can send them where I can,” Mike said.
Before serving in the Vietnam War, Mike grew up in a modest Montana homestead.
“My dad was a miner, we were considerably poor,” he said.
Mike’s older brothers, both carpenters, knew how to make Christmas more enjoyable for their family by making toys out of wood.
“Most of the things I got were handmade toys,” the veteran said. “They were wonderful toys, I know how much I enjoyed them and just hope that kids that get them now still do.”
In past years, the Sullivans have spent as much as $19,000 on the project. The woodworking club has chipped in a few thousand here and there, but times are tight in 2020. The Sullivans will be covering this year on their own.
It’s worth it if it makes one child happy.
“Christmas time, we had a chance to see the kids get the toys and see how much joy it was,” Sullivan said.
Learn more in the video below.Whizzco