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Toys for Tots: Shop students ‘pony up’ for kids

For about a week, the Flathead High School wood shop turned into Santa’s workshop with roughly 110 students playing the part of elves handcrafting stick ponies for boys and girls around the Flathead Valley this Christmas.

By the end of the week, wood shop students had produced 125 wooden stick ponies that were donated to the local Toys for Tots campaign. Toys for Tots is a charitable program operated by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve that collects and distributes toys for less fortunate children during the Christmas season.

This is the second year Flathead wood shop teacher Brock Anderson’s students have made wooden toys for Toys for Tots. Last year they made stick ponies and wooden cars.

“I did it when I was in high school in Columbia Falls. My wood shop teacher Mr. [Mick] Washburn, he made it for Toys for Tots back then and I really enjoyed it,” Anderson said.

By 11 a.m. on Dec. 11, more than 100 ponies were assembled in Anderson’s shop and stood in “corrals” ready for the finishing touches of a mane and simple bridle.

“We had to build a second corral for the ponies. We’ve got double-stalled ponies now,” Anderson said.

“That’s a lot of ponies,” one student chimed in.

Anderson called over students to give them directions on inserting strands of rope from mops donated by Western Building Center for the manes. Some of the heads still needed holes drilled for the mane and corners re-routed.

“Go get a pony, everyone. You’re going to make some happy kids,” Anderson shouted over the din of saws and sanders.

Students including junior Jacob Gamma decided to take on the responsibility of quality control. Gamma sorted through a stack of pony heads checking the V-shaped cuts between the pony ears and for any rough edges.

“I’ve always had a shop class since middle school,” Gamma said.

The stick ponies are fairly simple to make for the shop students.

“You start with a piece of wood like this,” Gamma said, pointing to a stack of planks donated by Plum Creek. “You put a template on top of it, trace the head, then you cut it out.  Then you sand it down to make the corners perfect and then you rout it. Then you drill holes in the back where the rope goes for the horse hair and you drill a hole in the bottom where the handle goes and then you put a clear coat on it.”

The wood dowels also were donated by Western Building Center.

With 110 students working on the same stick ponies, students have to manage a mass production process — each doing a specific job and picking up where another student has finished — rather than completing an entire pony from start to finish.

“I’ve been sanding for a couple of days now and drilling holes,” sophomore Riley Leighty said.

Leighty said he didn’t mind putting aside working on his personal wood-shop projects to make the stick ponies.

“It’s good to give back to the community and all the little kids,” Leighty said. “It’s nice that kids can have presents on Christmas.”

Anderson said that is the sentiment he’s imparted to all the students, emphasizing that their skills will bring joy to children who may not otherwise have presents under the tree.

“I tell them this is a trade skill we have and we need to give back,” Anderson said.

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