The elves were a little taller, and the setting a little less winter wonderland, but West Deptford High School's wood shop turned into Santa's workshop as students set aside their usual projects to instead build toys for less-fortunate kids as part of the annual Operation Blessing program.
It was an idea sparked by a single moment: one of William Rumaker’s students asked about making a wooden toy as part of class. With Operation Blessing right around the corner, Rumaker pitched the idea to the class as a whole, asking them to imagine themselves as an 8-year-old, getting a handcrafted toy on Christmas.
“They thought it was a cool idea to give back to the community,” Rumaker said.
The scope quickly ballooned to five different games built on a mass scale, with 25 copies of each put together in the span of three weeks.
The idea was nearly all student-driven after the initial pitch.
“They took it upon themselves to think of different games we could do,” Rumaker said.
Students took the last step Friday, as paddle balls and tic-tac-toe boards–all in a West Deptford green-and-white motif–by the dozens disappeared into bags and boxes.
Junior Brandon Miller said the chance to create something for someone he’s never met was a new opportunity.
“I’ve never actually built anything for anyone besides my family,” he said. “Knowing some little kid…is going to get a toy made by someone else feels pretty good.”
Similarly, for sophomore Mark Fischer, it was a break from the usual projects, like bookshelves and DVD racks.
“It feels good to know that I put the work into it,” he said. “Someone’s going to be enjoying my craft.”
Their effort is part of a nearly districtwide push for Operation Blessing, the charity program run by the high school’s National Honor Society, which will help 70 families in need this year.
Jody Davis, one of the group’s advisers, said pulling in more clubs, the wood shop class and getting the elementary schools involved—kids at the three schools brought in everything from food to clothing donations—pushed this year to a new level.
“Everybody’s been very generous this year,” she said. “Even in the hard economic times, families and the staff are willing to help out.”
Amid heaps of toys, everything from Nerf guns to a pair of fuzzy Stitch hands to scooters, Kelsie Casazza sorted and stacked a small army of stuffed animals. She said doing her part to help families in need gives her a sense of satisfaction.
“This is their kids’ Christmas,” she said, motioning to the four rows of cafeteria tables piled high with gifts.
Jessica Munyon cruised into the cafeteria on a bike destined for some lucky girl, and almost couldn’t believe the sight of all the toys spread out across the room.
“I feel like the kids will be thrilled to see all this,” she said.
As cart after cart rolled in, bearing Barbies or footballs or a four-foot-high stack of board games—Davis said they’d estimated there was more than $6,000 worth of donations—the students could barely keep up, the toys massing into brightly colored mountain chains.
Leo Impagliazzo said he was amazed at how much had come in by Friday.
“This is something I’ll never forget, helping out people less fortunate than us,” he said. “I love it, I’ll do it again and again.”