Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

ToyMakers group creates smiles for sick and needy children

It can be a life-changing moment seeing a suffering child crack a smile for the first time in many months. Or to hear a little girl battling illness utter words, after days of silence, at the sight of a new, yet simple wooden toy. The volunteer group of retirees known as The ToyMakers crave the sight of such tiny outbursts of joy from children enduring the most difficult of times. So without fail, The ToyMakers carve, sand and whittle away at wood in a small storage unit off State Road 52 and Little Road, turning out colorful toys on wheels destined for the hands of sick and needy children.

Their motto is simple:

"We work with wood, and we like to see kids smile," said ToyMaker Bill Coccia.

The labor of dozens of ToyMakers in the shop, as well as garages and homes across Pasco, produces thousands of toys each year that are delivered to children's hospitals, domestic violence shelters, fire departments, police stations and schools across the Tampa Bay area.

There are wooden ducks, alligators, frogs, cars, tugboats. Most of the toys are on wheels, and they are entirely made of wood, so there are no safety concerns. So far this year the group has delivered 12,000 toys to kids, including a recent Christmas delivery of 2,500.

As Christmas approaches, the hustle and bustle of the small toymaking shop looks a bit like Santa's workshop — if the elves were a little grayer on top.

"We're all retired, you know we have lived hectic lives like everyone does," said ToyMaker Hugo Helmer. "But there is nothing hectic about this and what we do for the kids."

The memories spill out of the shop like the boxes of handmade toys, as part of the joy of the work is to make the deliveries and see the kids' faces, ToyMaker Tom Loughlin said.

Loughlin once encountered a woman weeping as she walked out of a children's hospital with two kids, and he stopped them. He leaned down and offered the children a couple of toys. They both lit up and took one each. The mother stopped crying after seeing the smiles on her children's faces.

Another time Loughlin gave a sick little girl a toy frog attached to a string to be pulled across the floor, and she took off to play with it. He later asked the child if she had named her frog.

"No," the girl said.

"How about Kermit?"

"That's good," she said smiling.

An astounded nurse in the facility where the girl spent her days looked on with amazement.

"She said, 'That's the first time she has spoken since she got here,' " Loughlin said. "I had a nurse tell me, 'You have no idea how many smiles are in those boxes of toys you bring.' "

The ToyMakers are from all walks of life, made up of retired engineers, manufacturers, military servicemen and even a nuclear physicist. Many are snowbirds who continue to work when they leave for the summer. When Helmer returned from Massachusetts this year, he brought back 3,000 toys he made up north.

For The ToyMakers, the job is year round, but Christmas is a special time of year for helping children and families in need. And the joy they bring can create a long-lasting memory for a child in a hospital, or a young person driven out of their home by domestic violence.

The ToyMakers' eldest member, 91-year-old Bob Jahrling, knows that only too well. He has been making toys for the group since 1982.

"I went to my barber the other day and a woman told me her son had to go to the hospital as a child and got one of our toys. She said it's still on his mantel 20 years later," Jahrling said.

.fast facts

How you can help

To donate money or supplies to the ToyMakers, or to join, call (727) 376-4368, or visit

ToyMakers group creates smiles for sick and needy children 12/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 10, 2010 9:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest


    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]
  2. Mueller casts broad net in requesting extensive records from Trump White House


    WASHINGTON — The special counsel investigating Russian election meddling has requested extensive records and email correspondence from the White House, covering the president's private discussions about firing his FBI director and his response to news that the then-national security adviser was under …

    In a photograph provided by the Russian foreign ministry, President Donald Trump meets with Sergei Lavrov, left, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, May 10, 2017. Special counsel Robert Mueller is interested in this meeting, where Trump said dismissing FBI Director James Comey had relieved "great pressure" on him, the New York Times reported on Sept. 20. [Russian Foreign Ministry via  New York Times]
  3. 'We will find our island destroyed': Hurricane Maria demolishes Puerto Rico


    SAN JUAN — Sleepless Puerto Ricans awoke Wednesday knowing to expect a thrashing from the most ferocious storm to strike the island in at least 85 years. They met nightfall confronting the ruin Hurricane Maria left behind: engorged rivers, blown-out windows, sheared roofs, toppled trees and an obliterated electric …

    Rescue vehicles from the Emergency Management Agency stand trapped under an awning during the impact of Hurricane Maria, after the storm  hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria has lost its major hurricane status, after raking Puerto Rico. But forecasters say some strengthening is in the forecast and Maria could again become a major hurricane by Thursday. [Carlos Giusti | Associated Press]
  4. Obamacare repeal bill offers flexibility and uncertainty


    The latest Republican proposal to undo the Affordable Care Act would grant states much greater flexibility and all but guarantee much greater uncertainty for tens of millions of people.

  5. Manafort offered to give Russian billionaire 'private briefings' on 2016 campaign, report says


    Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, the Washington Post reports.

    Paul Manafort, then Donald Trump's campaign chairman, talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. [Associated Press]