Michael Sapper does his part to supply toys to disadvantaged children during the holidays, handcrafting them in a woodworking shop in his Carmel home.
Sapper works with the Central Indiana Woodworkers club, which was founded in 1948, to create the toys for children.
“I find it super rewarding,” Sapper said. “It’s a great group of people, and (the toys) fill a worthy cause for kids, whose parents sometimes don’t have funds to buy gifts. There are about 35 different agencies in (Indianapolis area) that come to us with requests. The last seven or eight years we’ve averaged around 15,000 to 16,000 toys a year. They are not all cars. Some are educational toys. There may be games, there might be gender-oriented toys specifically for boys or girls.”
Other than cars, toys include planes, trains and cribs. Wheels for the toys are factory-made.
“I’ve had the opportunities to take the toys out and meet some of the families, and it might be the only things the kids get,” Sapper said.
Sapper said the toys are stored throughout the year. They are taken to a warehouse in Fishers where they pack the toy to meet the agencies’ requests.
“It’s primarily for disadvantaged kids to get (gifts) for Christmas,” Sapper said. “For the most part, the toys don’t get finished because the kids decorate them.”
Sapper said he and Indianapolis Rowing Center friends made 100-plus wooden toys in one day. He also has a designated day making toys with his cycling friends.
“Some people know how to use tools and others don’t,” he said. “Some people who are petrified of tools, we just have them sand and do stuff that is really safe. We have people with all different skill levels come out and we take them through the process of making toys.”
The toys are often made from wood that would be thrown away.
“I like that you can take firewood that might be for one person and turn it into something different,” said Sapper, who is a certified public accountant.
Sapper also makes bowls, cutting boards and other items from leftover wood or logs.
“I also feel like I’m honoring the tree to give it a second life,” he said.
Sapper, who has been making toys with Central Indiana Woodworkers since 2015, has a YouTube channel under Sapper Woodworking with instructional videos.
“I row and I cycle, but this (shop) is my happy place,” Sapper said.
Sapper makes items from used skateboards. He won a 2022 Indiana State Fair blue ribbon for a bowl he made from used skateboards in the turning division for woodworking.
“I also entered a lamp I made out of recycled plywood that came out of a friend’s floor, and that won a blue ribbon in the home decor,” he said.
From those individual category winners, Sapper’s lamp won grand champion.