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Western New York Woodturners act like Santa's Helpers, make wooden toys for kids

It's a decades-old Christmas tradition for the group of woodturners.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — There's something special about being able to give the perfect gift. 

There's something extra special when the gift is handmade and crafted with love.

"When you make something and give it to someone else, it's just the best feeling in the world," said Jim Vasi, member of the Western New York Woodturners 1.

The group has been making handmade wooden Christmas toys for decades. They donate their time, talent and materials then give the toys to kids at the Aspire Christmas party. Aspire is an organization that serves children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Some members of the group have formal training. Others picked up wood turning as a hobby and learned along the way.

Their creations are crafted from splintered two by fours or even old dried up tree stumps they've found. They drill, turn, sand and paint hundreds of cars and trucks, pull toys, ring tosses and more.

"Being able to see them pick the toys up and see them smiling and laughing, it kind of gets you into the Christmas mood," said group member Gene Renzoni.

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"A couple of the guys makes some really nice toys that they pull along or move on a leash or so," Vasi said. "Kids just really really love them."

Some members of the group buy plans while others make their own designs. They meet once a month and share ideas and techniques with one another at the meeting.

"They're never the same," Renzoni said. "The toys are always different because people are using their creative talent." 

They ensure there are no loose parts, toxic paints, stains, sharp edges that can harm the children who play with them.

Member Bob Ball recalls one child who couldn't decide on a toy.

"He picked and picked and he didn't like anything. He suddenly picked up a wooden toy, and he held it up and he smelled it. And it was pine," Ball said. You could smell the smell, and he loved it. He grabbed it and took it."

The group also collects dolls and stuffed animals to hand out at the holiday party in case kids don't want a wooden toy.

Their charitable work isn't just around the holidays. All of the chapters of Western New York Woodturners make and sell various items at the fair and donate the proceeds to Make-A-Wish. Last year, they raised $25,000.

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