Husband and Wife Create and Donate Thousands of Toys to Local Kids: 'It's So Much Fun'
Mike Sullivan isn’t making a list, or checking it twice — he’s just making toys, for anyone who wants one.
The retired Army first sergeant and his wife Judy have been running their own Santa’s workshop out of a shed in the backyard of their Desert Hot Springs, California home for nearly a decade, and have crafted thousands of toys along the way.
"After retirement, I got bored and needed something to do," Mike, 72, told CNN of how they got started.
He and Judy, who recently celebrated 50 years together, joined a local woodworking club seven years ago, and it’s developed into a full-time passion, the outlet reported.
One of the couple’s first projects at the club was to build toys for kids for Christmas, and seeing the kids receive them and “how much joy it was” sparked what has since become an annual mission. This year, they’ve crafted 1,400 toys to gift to children around the country, CNN reported.
"It's so much fun, it feels like home here in the shop working things out," Mike added.
The pair spend most days there together, chipping away at the toys for roughly 50-70 hours a week.
"We're both in good health and are able to be out here six to seven days a week for eight to 10 hours," he said.
The couple each have their own roles : Mike buys the supplies, like lumber and drill bits, and physically crafts the toys, while Judy manages quality control and paints the toys.
"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, 71, told CNN.
She added that when it comes to spray painting the wooden creations, “The designs sort of come up in my head when I see the toys.”
To supplement Judy’s quality control, the Sullivans’ 15 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren help test out the toys as well.
They're constantly coming by the shop and toys just disappear with the kids," said Mike, whose wooden creations include trains and cars, classic push-and-pull toys in the shape of animals, jigsaw puzzles, stacking blocks and more.
The toys that make it past their grandkids are given away outside their home or donated locally, for the most part. According to the outlet, the Sullivans are distributing hundreds of toys this week among a kindergarten class, the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission and a church food pantry.
Whenever the couple can afford it, they’ll ship nationally as well. They pay out of pocket for all the supplies and shipping, which amounted to $19,000 last year, their daughter, who files their taxes, told CNN. Typically, their woodworking club donates $3,000 annually, but due to the financial strain of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the club was unable to afford it this year.
"We don't go out a lot or spend a lot on things that are frivolous," said Mike.
After some encouragement from their kids, the couple started a GoFundMe to help cover some of the costs, particularly the wheels and axles for the cars, which can be pricey. Mike is hoping to purchase a laser printer, which would allow him to double their toy output.
"We're a couple of old grandmas and grandpas doing what we do best," said Judy. "That's all there is to it."