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Catonsville residents work all year to brighten Christmas morning for kids in need.

A childhood dream has come to life inside a tiny wood shop in the basement of a Catonsville retirement community.

Busy hands work all year cutting toy trains, cars and airplanes out of wood. They soften the edges with sandpaper, and paint the hulls and doors with bright colors.

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And on Christmas morning, through the Toys for Tots program, children in need will have a handmade present durable enough to last generations.

This year 10 residents of the Charlestown retirement community donated their time to make about 100 vintage-style wooden toys. The work started in May, according to project coordinator Jim Mullis, and will continue until the toys are handed over Dec. 10 after a brief exhibit.

"We feel like it's giving back to the community, something that would be of value to the underprivileged kids who wake up on Christmas morning and have toys that perhaps they wouldn't have had if they didn't have a favorite grandpa or uncle to make the toy for them," Mullis said.

Donating to Toys for Tots, a charity run through the United State Marine Corps Reserve, also gives Charlestown a chance to show service members their appreciation.

"My favorite part is this time of year, when we can present (the toys) to the Marines," Mullis said. "It's a good chance to say thank you."

In past years residents have stood with gratitude at the sight of the Marines in the building, Mullis said.

In the wood shop, many of the volunteers making the toys have been practicing the craft for decades, happy to pick it up again when they moved into Charlestown. It takes more than a day to make each toy.

"I had them write down one year how many hours they spent," Mullis said. "They put down times like eight hours, 12 hours; in reality it was 25, 30."

One year they counted up the hours volunteers spent building the toys — they tallied 1,400 total, Mullis said, though it was likely closer to 2,000.

The craftsmen aren't limited to making toy vehicles; they also make puzzles. There are the very simple puzzles for young children, matching up triangles, squares and circles. Then there are the more complex picture puzzles, and finally for older children, three-dimensional versions.

That's what Charlestown resident John Chasse was working on the morning of Dec. 1. He'd carved out the pieces, which look like chairs and stools nesting inside one another. The next step was to sand the puzzle and varnish it.

When he was done he put the puzzle together, though at first he misplaced a center piece — a sign of the toy's complexity.

Donating handmade, vintage-style toys to the children encourages the use of slow-moving toys over their flashier, electric and plastic counterparts, according to Chasse. It's a point of pride for the craftsmen.

"Old guys and slow-moving toys," he said.

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It is good to see kids play with something other than a computer, said John Spangler, another volunteer. He also enjoys making the toys for the camaraderie with other volunteers.

St. Nick arrived in Catonsville with much fanfare on Nov. 28 during the 23rd edition of the holiday celebration that also featured the lighting of the town's Christmas tree.

"It's a challenge to make something new," he said. "We've got some real experts here."

The wood shop's most prolific toymaker, Roger Mackubin, has produced about 40 of them this year.

"I like that to be my main thing all year long," he said. "Making Toys for Tots."

He did the same with a woodworking club in Towson prior to moving to Charlestown, so he has a lot of experience building toys, he said.

"Wood toys are going to last forever," he said. "These kids that pick up these toys, they'll be able to give them to their grandkids one day."

Before the toys are donated to Toys for Tots, they will be on display Dec. 10 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Cross Creek Lobby of Charlestown, located at 715 Maiden Choice Lane, Catonsville.

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