NEW PORT RICHEY — The charred heap behind Tom Loughlin's house, where a busy little toy shop once stood, is still there.
Blackened beams and melted band saws and planers are scheduled to be hauled off by cleanup crews next week. Now comes the rebuilding, and people from Spring Hill to St. Petersburg and all the way out to Lake Worth have offered to help.
Bill Coccia, president of the ToyMakers of New Port Richey, has taken 10 to 15 calls a day since news broke that the nonprofit organization's main workshop on Casey Drive burned down last Wednesday from an electrical short. People are asking him where they should make out checks and offering different pieces of woodworking equipment. He calls it "pleasantly overwhelming."
One of those people is Pasco schools assistant superintendent Ray Gadd, who plans to propose an agreement at the next School Board meeting that would allow the district to donate or lease equipment to the ToyMakers. The equipment would come from high school woodworking classes that no longer exist and from maintenance surpluses.
Gadd said he's already donated $1,000 of his own money and is challenging others to do the same.
"We're going to find a way to get them back on their feet," he said.
Gadd also recruited Ed Blommel, a Dade City lawyer and former regional manager for Tampa Electric Co., to help. Blommel is a woodworking enthusiast of 20 years and is well-connected in the trade's east Pasco community. He knows people with saw mills and spare tools who will lend a hand to the ToyMakers.
"The thing about woodworkers," he said, "is that there are no strangers. "They'll loan, give or help you anyway that they can."
The ToyMakers of New Port Richey is a troupe of mostly retirees who spend three days a week, from 8 a.m. to noon, churning out toys. Four times a year, they deliver 5,000 of them to St. Joseph's Hospitals, the Shriners, the pediatric unit of Morton Plant Hospital, Ronald McDonald Houses and several others. Since starting in 1982, they have built and donated 320,000 toys.
Talk to any one of them and you'll hear about the smiles they've seen in hospital rooms during toy deliveries.
"That's when you really see what the toy does for a child," Coccia said. "Even if it's only a fleeting moment, it's really nice to see."
They have other workshops in the county, but the one that burned down is where they cut their piles of donated scrap wood down to size with planers and painted wheels, the first step in their toy-making process. They can still build toys now but won't be able to once their stock of sized wood runs out.
"It's not like we're completely cut off," Coccia said. "However, our whole front end is gone."
The first step to rebuilding now is going out and assessing the donations, seeing what they need as far as tools. He has a growing list of donors to visit who have offered equipment. He's hoping to recruit volunteers to work in the shop once it gets built. He estimates that will happen in a couple of months.
Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.