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'Mr Santa Claus' Carves Joy For Disadvantaged Children

26/05/2010

A kind-hearted elderly Florida man works year-round making traditional wooden toys for abused, homeless and sick children.

By James Tweedie

74 year-old pensioner Ray Kendrick has carved more than 10,000 toys for disadvantaged children over the past 16 years.

His advancing years have not slowed him down – on the contrary, last year alone he made 3,100 toys, including wooden cars, milk floats and small, old-fashioned crayon boxes. He is on course to beat last year's record, with 2,400 finished toys stacked in boxes in his garage.

"You wouldn't believe the need out there," says Ray, who took up woodworking two decades ago after retiring from the tiling trade. "Some of those kids don't get anything but a hard time."

With so many people unemployed as a result of the global recession, Ray expects the need this year to be greater than ever. "It's going to be worse with people out of jobs,” he says. “The last thing they'll do is spend money on toys."

Ray pays for most of the materials he uses, although Florida's Disney World donates scrap wood from its workshop, as does a local furniture shop. He has so far amassed a two-year stockpile of wood, including mahogany, maple and pecan.

Each November he donates the gifts to children's charities such as Toys for Tots, Give Kids the World, Coalition for the Homeless and BETA Centre, which helps pregnant teenagers.

In recognition of his outstanding work for charity Ray was awarded $2,000 and a supply of wood-finishing products in May by manufacturer Minwax. But he won't be spending the money on himself – he plans to buy more wood to make toys with.

BETA Centre president Tammi Dooley says that many of the young mothers there come from troubled homes and have never received a gift "made with so much love." If Ray stopped making toys, she says, it would be "like Santa Claus going away."

Indeed, children have dubbed Ray 'Mr Claus'. Like a real-life Father Christmas, he works through the hot Florida summer in his backyard workshop near the town of Pine Hills to get his toys ready for the festive season.

While he doesn't have a team of elves to help him, Ray's wife of 55 years Sandra occasionally helps with painting the toys. "We've had a good life," she says. "We have to give back."

But Ray was not always so fortunate himself. As a child in Tifton, Georgia, his parents were so poor that some Christmases they could afford nothing more than an apple and orange to put in his stocking. "I was raised not having anything," he says.

Although the work is tiring for this elderly philanthropist, his reward is the thought of the joy his toys bring to children.

He recalls a terminally ill girl at Give Kids the World in Kissimmee. "She got this toy and was clutching it in her hands. Her mother came and said, 'The girl has a smile. She hasn't been happy for months.' "


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