CARE's private elves make the Emergency Santa Shop possible
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 29, 2005 12:00 AM
Mack Jones has a job that consumes him six days a week, even though he's 91, and says it actually costs him money to work.
But it's still a good deal for Jones. The smile of happy children who love the homemade wooden toy cars and trucks he makes is more than enough payment. So is living to see another day.
''I don't know if I'd be alive now if not for this project," Jones said. "It's a very, very important thing for me. Without it, I'd be lost. I'd have nothing to do.''
And Jones, who once taught electronics and physics at Glendale Community College in California and owned his own radio repair shop, remains prolific. This year, Jones has made more than 2,000 toy cars, trucks and jeeps in his garage near Mesa's Arizona Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, churning out an average of 10 a day and 200 a month.
He made slightly fewer last year, when he painted the toys. Staining them with mineral oil instead simplified his little production line and made him more productive.
''It's a purpose in life,'' Jones said. ''It's something I feel is very valuable to someone else.''
Jones' salvation is the Happy Factory, a Cedar City, Utah, program featured this month on Three Wishes, a national NBC television show.
Volunteers make simple wooden toys for underprivileged children around the nation and the world. Jones is the organization's Valley toymaker, but more are needed, along with donations of 2-inch-wide scrap hardwood.
The goal is to turn scrap wood and wasted time into small labors of love to help children.
Mack's wife, Beverly Jones, 75, read about the program in a church newsletter and called the program's founders, Charles and Donna Cooley.
They put her in touch with Gene Ham, 74, manager of the Mesa Royale Trailer Park, who had been making the toys until three years ago, when his wife, Connie, died.
Ham said he lost interest in making the toys after his wife's death, because they made it a family project, but he still wanted the program to flourish.
''It's always given me great pleasure to help other people,'' Ham said.
Ham recruited Cooley to replace him in March 2004. He said it wasn't a hard sell.
Soon, Cooley bought a drill press, a band saw, a belt sander and other woodworking equipment. He had heat and air-conditioning installed in his garage and turned it into a workshop.
Ham concentrates on collecting wood and delivering the little toys to needy children.
Recipients have included Hurricane Katrina evacuees, the Mesa Child Crisis Center, the Mesa Care Partnership's emergency Santa program and orphanages in Mexico, Ham said.
The wooden cars also are donated to LDS relief organizations for the poor, he said, but the program donates to poor people of all religions.
''You ought to see their eyes light up,'' Ham said. ''They scramble for them. They want more.''
Ham recently brought about 800 toys built by Jones to an orphanage and a hospital in Agua Prieta, Sonora.
''When I saw the little kids, the looks on their faces, it was just great,'' he said.
He donated 250 this month to Mesa's Care Partnership, with more on their way.
Jones cuts the wooden blocks with patterns supplied by Ham. He sands them, installs small wooden axles and wheels supplied by the national organization, dips them in mineral oil and hangs them to dry.
He typically works about six hours a day, six days a week, and admits his hobby is also a mission.
''It's good for the children, and it's good for him as well,'' Beverly said.
''I keep telling him it's cheaper than golf.''
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