My Great Idea: Santa's Workshop

I'm not a pack rat, but there are so many useful things around that I can't bring myself to throw them away.

Six years ago my husband and I walked into our kids' playroom and took a look at everything they didn't use. There were some great toys down there! From just one toy box in the corner, we found a doll that wasn't even scuffed, a remote control car in good condition, a plastic kitchen set that our daughter had grown out of, and a zoo of stuffed animals.

In another pile were ten other toys that needed a little bit of sprucing up. But I had a box of craft paint, a sewing kit, and some superglue sitting in a drawer upstairs ready to go to work.

It was a Saturday, and we needed to find something to entertain the kids anyway, so we brought them downstairs. Instead of handing out toys and sentencing them to quiet play time, we put them to work. With supplies in tow, we transformed our playroom into a mini Santa's workshop and sent all those less-than-perfect toys down the assembly line. First the toys were cleaned, then repaired, then painted and improved if possible.

With the idea that the local homeless shelter could use the toys more than our family could, we again went through the playroom with the kids, and they volunteered more toys to share with another family. By the end of the day, we had two boxes of Christmas presents and set off for the nearest shelter.

There are quite a few places that look for toys around the holidays. We've looked up shelters and homes, YMCA, Goodwill, and local foster services. Depending on the agency, we either leave presents unwrapped, so workers can see the items and match them to the right children, or wrap the gift and attach a card with the sex and age of a child for whom the toy would be best.

Over the years the playroom has become more and more elaborate, decorated to take on the magic and spirit of Santa's workshop. On the wall is a list of shelters and homes and names of some of the kids we've met over the years. Pictures have gone up and friendships have been made. With the neighbors and their kids pitching in too, our playroom is as busy as FedEx during the holiday season.

Maybe it's just because they're getting older, but now the kids seem to take better care of their toys throughout the year and look forward to giving them away at Christmas. They're even more willing to share with their brothers and sisters in the meantime!

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