Santa’s right-hand man keeps kids happy with wooden toys made at Shirley Intermediate

It’s well known that Santa Claus creates his Christmas magic at the North Pole, but Malcolm Westgarth and his elves will have you believe otherwise.

Making nearly 1,000 wooden toys by hand each year, volunteers from the Santa Claus Workshop Charitable Trust donate them to children in the city who would otherwise not receive a gift from Santa Claus.

Malcolm, 83, runs the workshop in Shirley Middle School’s tech block, making sure the toys are in top condition for their new homes in time for the holiday season.

He said many of Santa’s helpers were in their 60s and 80s. Like the others, a feeling of joy comes over him when he hears about the impact the gesture has had on the children’s lives.

The toys have been distributed to families by organizations including the Delta Foundation, Mayor’s Welfare Fund, Shirley Community Trust and other charities.

“A few years ago, a little boy received a small wooden tractor; he was told he could take it home and it was his. He just burst into tears, he couldn’t understand it. He had never received anything like this before,” he said.

“It touches our guys, they love to hear what’s going on and the stories where things are being done to help these kids.”

Almost 16 years ago, Malcolm had spare paint in his garage.

He was adamant it would not be wasted. It was Resene paint, after all.

His wife asked him to take it to the community center in Shirley, who knew others who needed it and eventually connected with Santa’s Workshop.

The shop has been bringing Christmas cheer to children since 1978, when two Richmond carpenters decided to do something new with their Sunday mornings.

They appealed in “the local rag” for donations of broken wooden toys, which they repaired and donated to needy families in the area.

They operated out of the community center until the February 22, 2011 earthquake damaged the building. With the support of the Papanui-Innes Community Council, they moved to the school a year later.

“I donated some paint I had in my garage to the workshop and was asked within 10 days when I was coming to put it on the toys.”

The responsibility of painting the toys has since fallen to him, but Malcolm isn’t the only one.

Twice a week for around eight hours, he is joined by 15 volunteers who help chop wood and build the toys either at school or in the comfort of their home workshops.

Made of solid wood with no MDF, the toys were built to last and range from dinosaurs, animals and cars to puzzles, games and building blocks.

It costs at least $8,000 to run the workshop, but large donations of lumber, running the school rent-free, and financial support from the Lions Club of Christchurch have helped the trust stay afloat.

At the time, they were making around 250 toys a year and have since hit their personal best of 1,300 in 2019. Last year, they created 980 despite Covid-19 disruptions.

Because toys aren’t plastic like most were these days, wooden toys were “better for kids.”

“They are making a comeback. They are very popular because people know they will last.

Malcolm encourages volunteers to make around 20-30 units of their favorite toys, trying to introduce a new toy every year.

He had a hard time deciding which was his favorite, but things like sewing machines and toasters were what “amazed” him the most.

Popular items included wooden chairs and beds designed for dolls, which are also provided by the trust, including bedding and dolls.

The hardest part was not being able to meet the demands of each child and having the time to do everything.

Says Malcolm: “We used to have a phone plugged in all the time. We were getting phone calls from kids asking for this and that. A lot of these things weren’t on our radar and we didn’t even consider making them.

“We try to give the kids what they want, but it doesn’t work that way.”

Malcolm may work in the same halls where he himself learned the art of woodworking as an alumnus of Shirley Intermediate, but that wasn’t his only passion.

He grew up in the area with his parents and twin sisters and attended Shirley Primary School.

He didn’t tinker in the workshop at home. Instead, he was an avid stamp collector and served as the Christchurch Philatelic Society Librarian for almost 14 years.

Malcolm has retired from his one job of 40 years as a sales manager for the Union Steam Ship Company, running ferries to Wellington and cargo ships to America, India, Pakistan and North America. North.

He joined the trust because he wanted to do something with his time.

The trust is currently in the process of finding a new, rent-free facility – approximately 300m² with enough storage space for a container.

More volunteers were always welcome, Malcolm said.

“The school was very generous in allowing us to have these rooms rent free as they had more classrooms than needed, but this is not on the Department of Education’s agenda. [anymore],” he said.

“We are all getting a bit older and need more help. We also need young people to get involved. »


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