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PSU students usher in the holiday season making toys for tots

The Kansas Technology Center (KTC) resembled Santa’s workshop last Wednesday as members of the university’s Society of Architectural Woodworkers (SAW) spent the evening putting the finishing touches on about 200 little wooden toy trucks.  

Each Christmas, the Crawford County chapter of Toys for Tots supports the Salvation Army & Wesley House distribution with toys for community children. In 2019 the program distributed 2,177 toys to 1,124 children in Southeast Kansas. 

PSU associate professor Charlie Phillips said he loves this event because it not only gives back to the community, but his students really get to apply what they are learning in class. The majority of the students in SAW are pursuing degrees in architectural manufacturing management and technology, previously known as wood tech, through the College of Technology. 

“It’s all volunteer students, and the student organization pays for all the products and all the materials to build these,” Phillips said. “And then the students volunteer their time to come in and produce them.     It’s not for a grade, it’s not for anything other than just out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s just something to give back. They can use their abilities and their skills to give back to the community. It is a sense of pride for me as an instructor to see the passion they are putting into it.″  

After many weeks of hard work, the students enjoyed getting together in the lab to finish the assembly of the toy trucks—complete with working wheels and tailgate—which the club also designed, and mass produced themselves. 

“It wasn’t just all of a sudden people showed up and started putting things together,” Phillips said. “There was a lot of prep work.” 

The idea for the event came from a former SAW member who had done something similar while he was in high school and wanted to try the same thing at PSU. Sophmores Nathan Minuth and Conner Jennings, both officers in SAW, said the club works for most of the semester designing, engineering and mass producing the parts for the toys and they switch up the design each year. In the past they have created airplanes, helicopters and motorcycles.   

“Last year we did planes and some semi-trucks,” Minuth said. “This year, since we had kind of a tight schedule, we decided to go with something simple, easy and still able to make a bunch of them because you know we like to go for volume over something that’s really complicated and takes a long time. We’re going to try and keep making toys every year as long as we can” 

The annual project is run by the students and supervised by Phillips. Jennings was not only there to help build the toys and monitor others′ work, but also played a major role in designing the toys as well. 

“The trucks we are doing this year are essentially a re-design of a truck we had done in previous years, but they are slightly different,” Jennings said. “We tried to improve, learning off the mistakes that we made in previous years. Based off of that, we go through and design it in a computer program.”  

Pittsburg’s Toys for Tots is coordinated by Lynden Lawson, a 2012 graduate of the PSU Human Resource Development program, and his wife, Kris Lawson, an assistant professor in history, philosophy, and social Sciences. 
“What makes this program worth all of our time and effort is the hope that each toy gives to a kid at Christmas,” Lawson said. “They are why we do it, and we believe that is why so many of our friends and neighbors throughout Crawford and Cherokee counties help us too. Locally, the money we collect is money we spend in our community for toys that we distribute to kids in our community. Toys that we collect, like the wonderful handcrafted wooden trucks made by the PSU students, also go to kids in our community.” 

The students excitedly hammered, sanded and glued parts of the trucks together and watched as their creations came to life. Jennings said they  were also excited to be able to do something nice for the community. 

“This is a great chance to help the community,” Jennings said. “And it also gets a lot of students involved.”  

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