Jon Wilson, who hand-crafts toy blocks, unloads wrapped baskets for donation to the Sky Valley Food Bank on Wednesday in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jon Wilson, who hand-crafts toy blocks, unloads wrapped baskets for donation to the Sky Valley Food Bank on Wednesday in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

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He plays Santa with a saw and sander, making blocks to give

Christmas House won’t open this year due to COVID, but its toys will be distributed at area food banks.

A mask hid the beard that makes Jon Wilson look a bit like Santa. Outside the Sky Valley Food Bank, he unloaded basket after basket of handcrafted wooden blocks, all tied up with Christmasy ribbons.

Wilson’s delivery in Monroe Wednesday was the last of 10 such trips he’s made to area food banks, which in this pandemic year will distribute holiday toys as well as groceries. The back of his truck was filled with the baskets and gift bags wrapped by his wife, Joyce.

Inside those pretty packages, children will find blocks of different shapes and sizes — sanded smooth, unpainted and ready for little hands and big imaginations.

“They don’t break in the first four hours and they don’t need batteries,” said Wilson, 74, who crafted enough blocks to fill 180 baskets or bags. Wilson, who lives on wooded acreage north of Monroe in the French Creek area, took 18 of the packages to each food bank he visited.

In the past, he has taken baskets of blocks to Christmas House. Since 1981, the Everett-based all-volunteer nonprofit has provided free holiday gifts for Snohomish County families in need. Because of coronavirus-related restrictions, Christmas House will not be open for its customary “shopping” days at the Everett Boys & Girls Club.

“We’re partnering by bringing gifts to food banks,” said Gregg Milne, Christmas House president.

Jon Wilson shows one of the hand-crafted blocks on Wednesday in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jon Wilson shows one of the hand-crafted blocks on Wednesday in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The agency has so far delivered about 8,000 toys, for infants to 12-year-olds, to local food banks. Milne said Christmas House has also provided holiday presents for local students whose families are experiencing homelessness.

Christmas House gave the Sky Valley Food Bank 230 children’s gifts, said Milne, and larger agencies received many more. About 1,500 gifts are going out from Christmas House through the Salvation Army, he said.

“I just know there’s a lot of need out there, for shelter and food,” leaving many families unable to fulfill kids’ holiday wishes, Milne said.

Signs are up at the Boys & Girls Club letting Christmas House clients know the program won’t be open there, he said. Word also went out to area schools.

Cindy Chessie, the Sky Valley Food Bank’s executive director, said toy distribution will happen there Dec. 12 and likely on some “emergency days.” The food bank regularly provides groceries to some 350 families. About 400 families are signed up to receive toys. Families fill out forms designating children’s ages and “check off things their kids would like,” Chessie said.

Chessie said the food bank also gets gifts from other sources, among them the Big Heart Big Smile Foundation, schools that hold toy drives, the Maltby Church and Monroe businesses that have giving trees.

In the past, Wilson has donated blocks to Toys for Tots. His first such project was back in 1972.

Sky Valley Food Bank Executive Director Cindy Chessie helps unload Jon Wilson’s toy block donations on Wednesday in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Sky Valley Food Bank Executive Director Cindy Chessie helps unload Jon Wilson’s toy block donations on Wednesday in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“I worked at Black Clawson in Lowell in 1972. They had a pattern shop, patterns of all different shapes and contours,” he said. He recalled asking if he could have his employer’s scrap wood, and use of a band saw and sander.

“I made a dozen boxes of blocks and shipped them to my sister in Los Alamos, New Mexico,” he said. “She has two kids. She gave a lot of them away,” said Wilson, who raised three children of his own.

Now retired, Wilson worked as a foundry engineer at Sather Manufacturing on Everett’s McDougall Avenue. “There were several wood shops along the street. They were tossing out scrap wood, maple and cherry. I picked up a lot,” he said. He also got wood from pallets at a nearby door company.

“I’d make blocks to give away,” he said. With a table saw and disk sander, his home has become a kind of Santa’s workshop.

Making blocks isn’t Wilson’s only way of giving back. Since 1973, he’s been a volunteer with Everett Mountain Rescue. With people getting outside during the pandemic, “this year has been incredibly busy,” he said.

Wilson started working on the blocks he’s giving away this season two years ago. He thinks of all the children who’ll find those simple toys on Christmas morning.

“It’s good for their imagination,” he said.

Julie Muhlstein: jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com

Help with toys

Christmas House, which annually provides thousands of holiday gifts for Snohomish County children, will not be open to clients this year due to coronavirus safety regulations. The organization’s toys for children 12 and younger will instead be distributed by area food banks. For details, check directly with your local food bank.

Donate to Christmas House by sending a check to: Christmas House, P.O. Box 717, Everett, WA 98206.

Or donate online at christmas-house.org/donate.

To arrange to donate new toys or gifts, leave a message with Christmas House at 425-338-2273.

New toys may also be dropped off at local Les Schwab Tire Centers, the Everett Mall toy chest or fire stations in Everett.

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