Santa made an early visit to Franklin County Friday to bring gifts to 295 students at Steven’s Elementary School.
“Surprise. Santa Clause is here,” Principal Thomas Knepper said as the first kindergarten and first graders filed into the room where Santa and his helpers from Wood-to-Wonderful, a Reading-based non-profit organization, were set up.
The children sat quietly on the floor in front of the red-suited Santa (Keith Bard), who was accompanied by Bard’s brother, Carl, and their 94-year-old father Ben, both wearing red hats indicating they were Santa’s helpers.
Nearby were Doug Brown, Wood-to-Wonderful director, and his sister Karen, ready to hand Santa gift bags filled with toys and treats for the children.
Each bag held two handmade high-quality wooden toys, Rice Crispy treats, a stuffed toy, book, and toothbrush and toothpaste.
“This means a lot to our kids,” Knepper said. “It’s a wonderful surprise For the children.”
He said the Browns called one day and said they wanted to provide gifts for the borough’s Third Ward school.
“They explained they were from Reading and ran a workshop for Santa. They make these wonderful wooden toys,” Knepper said.
‘It’s for the Kids’
Carl Bard, who is originally from Chambersburg, nominated Stevens for the project. He grew up here but now lives in Reading, where he is on the Wood-to-Wonderful board of directors. He wanted to bring the same joy to children here he sees when other children get the special wooden toys.
Ben said he and his sons were there for the kids on Friday. Father and sons all grew up here and attended local schools. They were at Stevens Friday on behalf of Wood-to-Wonderful.
”It’s enough just to see their faces,” Ben said. “It makes our whole day worthwhile.”
The Brown’s, who founded Wood-to-Wonderful in 1987, cite the same reason for doing what they do.
“We like to see kids happy,” Louise Brown said, citing a need in communities everywhere. “It’s the reason we do what we do.”
Doug Brown said the wooden toys intrigue children and stimulates their imagination. Toys include a helicopter with blades that rotate, a van with a little man that goes up and down and interlocking wooden puzzles.
“Kids have to interact with these toys,” he said. “They push them, and make noise and use their imaginations.”
Toys for older kids include board and peg games, yo-yos and more complicated puzzles.
“We often run into parents who say they still have the (wooden) toys we gave them 15 years ago,” Doug said.
Knepper said the type of generosity demonstrated by the Browns and their non-profit is typical of the generosity he sees every day.
“There is so much of that everywhere,” he said. “We have teachers who buy presents for parents to give to their kids. It happens all over town. It’s across the board and throughout the district.”
Founded by Louise and Doug Brown in 1987 in the Washington, DC, suburbs, Wood=to-Wonderful relocated to Reading in 1997.
Wood-to-Wonderful’s original grassroots mission was to make wooden toys for less fortunate children. Between 7,000 and 10,000 wooden toys are made and distributed yearly to needy children.
Since moving to Reading, Wood-to-Wonderful’s mission has evolved into helping to improve the quality of life for deserving children.
Volunteers of all ages and from all walks of life and economic levels help Wood-to-Wonderful make wooden toys.