In 1995 Charles Cooley realized his passion for woodworking had gotten out of hand. He was tripping over the toys—cars, trucks, horses, et al—he began carving after retiring as a building manager earlier that year. So Cooley and his wife, Donna, loaded their car, drove three hours from their Cedar City, Utah, home to Salt Lake City and then gave them to a children’s hospital. “The woman who accepted them had tears running down her face,” says Cooley, 70. “I decided, ‘This is what I want to do.’ ”
Cooley’s hobby has since turned into a full-time mission. Calling their operation the Happy Factory, the Cooleys have made more than 70,000 toys for hospitals, churches, homeless shelters and orphanages. “Everybody wants to help,” says Donna, 65. “Charity’s contagious.” It must be. When the Cooleys ran out of room at home, an aerospace firm donated 1,600 sq. ft. of factory space. A lumberyard and a cabinetmaker have donated wood—and more than 600 of Cedar City’s 13,000 residents have pitched in, cutting patterns and painting toys.
Cooley gives most toys to Salt Lake City’s Latter-day Saints Humanitarian Services Center, which distributes them worldwide to kids caught in wars or natural disasters. “The most neglected person,” says Cooley, “is the little child left in the rubble. If we can get a toy into the hands of a hurting child—well, that’s a wonderful thing.”