Toymaker bounces back after thumb injury

This year Vern Heinle did not make as many wooden toys for the Forgotten Children’s Fund as he hoped.

This year Vern Heinle did not make as many wooden toys for the Forgotten Children’s Fund as he hoped.

Heinle was working in his shop behind his home in September when his left thumb was caught for a moment in the table saw blade. The injury kept him out of his workshop for six weeks after it was surgically repaired.

“It was a sad day,” said Heinle, who has spent 40 years as a carpenter. “I had high hopes of doing more toys this year.”

A year ago, Heinle made 300 cars, planes, tanks and trucks out of wood. This year he cut back his output to 200 cars.

“Last year was a good year,” Heinle, 80, said. “Everything went well. I’ll have to push harder next year.”

This is the sixth year he is building toys to give to needy children at Christmas. Heinle, who lives in Kent, will donate the handmade wooden toys to Seattle-based Forgotten Children’s Fund this year. He often enlists the help of his grandsons — two of whom graduated from Kentlake High in June while another graduated a few years ago Kentwood — in the process or delivery of the toys.

Heinle first became involved with the holiday drive when Jim Pelletier, the former manager of the Shari’s on 132nd Avenue Southeast and Southeast Kent-Kangley Road, asked him. Pelletier, who moved from Covington to Enumclaw in 2012, is now the manager of the Shari’s on Russell Road in Kent so now Heinle drops off his toys there.

While in his workshop Nov. 14, Heinle was working on the last batch of toy cars, listening to country music though he also enjoys listening to Elvis Presley’s renditions of gospel music.

“Just cars (this year) because they’re easy to make, they’re fast,” Heinle said. “Most of the kids in the 4, 5 and 6 year old range, they don’t get much. I do what I can do.”

His thumb has a long white scar on it, but, the carnage suffered in September is undetectable. Heinle said it works well thanks to the fantastic work the surgeon did to repair the damage.

Next year he will try to make more toys. In the meantime he is trying to encourage others to contribute handmade items while also teaching the younger generations of his family about what it means to help others.

“I’ve taught my children how much joy there is in giving,” he said. “Now I’m trying to teach my grandsons and granddaughters and they seem to be receptive.”

His wife, Caroline, pointed out that their youngest grandchildren who are 9 and 10, understand it is important to be generous. She believes today’s generation of children grasp what it means to give back to those less fortunate.

“We hope to finish, that will be my grandsons and some of my sons and I, the weekend after Thanksgiving,” Heinle said. “On (Dec. 14) my grandsons and I will give out little toy cars to kids 10 years old and under.”

That day he’ll drop off the toys at the Shari’s on Russell Road in Kent. With his white beard and a red hat, Heinle may be mistaken for Santa Claus. Toys will be handed out from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Heinle is particularly grateful to those who donated cash or materials to his effort this year, specifically to Jennifer Tingey, Mathew Croft, Henry Kosteleky, Bryan Heinle and Terry Sullivan.

He encourages anyone who wants to support the Forgotten Children’s fund — a nonprofit which has been doing this since 1975, when a letter to Santa landed in a restaurant, where a group of people decided to ensure that needy children and their families would not go without at Christmas — to drop off donations at any Shari’s location in western Washington.

As Heinle gets older, he would like to see other artisans help out.

“To all the woodworkers and craftspeople, the opportunity this time of year to make toys,” Heinle said. “You will get a lot of joy out of it because they’re going to people who have a need. Next year I plan to do more, but, again, I don’t know. There are a lot of older people over the age of 65 and retired who might have the time on their hands. Building toys is rewarding.”