Crafting christmas miracles

Real-life Santas deliver joy to local children

Story and photos by Anthony Welch

Santa isn’t the only one who grants Christmas wishes. Jim King and Otis Moreland make miracles come true every year for children across El Paso and Teller counties with their handmade wooden toys.

The two men have created nearly 5,000 toys through their Colorado Springs-based nonprofit Wheels of a Dream. Toys are distributed to children who are in hospitals, victims of violence, or going through hard times.
“When you see the looks on kids’ faces when they get a toy, you say, ‘Let’s make more toys,’” said King.

“We do it at our leisure, and we do it because it’s going to bring happiness to a child. That’s payment enough for us.”

Otis Moreland

A hobby with purpose
King, 75, and Moreland, 85, met a few years ago while driving school buses for Academy School District 20. Both skilled woodworkers, they bonded over their craft and their wooden creations. King retired from a career in custom woodworking, and Moreland dabbled in it outside of his 50-year career as a pharmacist.

“We have both used the same wood supplier, so we could have stood next to each other and never knew it,” said King.
In April 2016, they decided to combine their passion with a higher purpose and started Wheels of a Dream. Initially, their goal was to make 5,000 toys by the time the organization hit its five-year anniversary, but in just four and a half years, they’ve crafted 4,976 toys.

Toys are distributed to hospitals and regional nonprofits like Safe Passage, TESSA of Colorado Springs, and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Colorado. Wheels of a Dream has also partnered with Colorado Springs Police Department’s Crimes Against Children Unit to provide toys to children in crisis.

“I had no idea this community had such a need,” said King. “There’s a substantial number of kids every year that are mistreated. We got involved with Toys for Tots, and we took 200 toys to kids.”

Gifting with joy
Wheels of a Dream started out with just 12 toy designs. Now, the organization boasts a catalog of 80 different toys, all made by King, Moreland and a small crew of volunteers.

“We were very basic in the very beginning,” King said. “Our very first design was a simple race car.”

Each toy starts as a drawing. The shapes are cut from wood and are sanded and routed for a smooth feel. Moreland adds the finishing touches by spraying on lacquer and adding wheels.

While toy making requires a lot of hours and crafting, to King and Moreland, it never seems like work.

“These are a joy. I don’t have to force myself to finish them like I do with my other woodworking projects,” Moreland said. “We do it at our leisure, and we do it because it’s going to bring happiness to a child. That’s payment enough for us.”

New year, new goals
King and Moreland are the architects behind the toys and the organization, but they couldn’t have met their 5,000-toy goal without help from volunteers. Currently, they have a crew of six helpers, but they could use more to help with some of the fine details. No experience is necessary.

“We can produce the toys. It’s the delicate wood burning we need help with,” said Moreland. “It takes a little artistic talent to wood burn, and Jim and I are a little short on that.”

It’s helped that, due to COVID-19, the two currently aren’t able to drive buses, lending them more free time to make toys. Additionally, students from the Air Force Academy volunteered their time and helped Wheels of a Dream complete 1,200 toys in three months.

“If you’re a freshman, the only way to get off the base is to go work for a nonprofit,” said King. “I had a sophomore hear about us. She got four freshmen to borrow a junior’s car and they come and help out at my shop once a month or so. They’re committed to this program. They’ve seen the results of it, and they want to come out here as often as they can.”

Last year, Wheels of a Dream built 971 toys. While King and Moreland feel a sense of accomplishment about reaching their 5,000-toy milestone, there’s talk of pulling back the reigns and setting a more manageable goal. However, if the need increases, King and Moreland will happily step up to the plate.

“It’s all about the kids,” said King. “It’s not about my talents or about my skill set. It’s about keeping this organization going so the kids can have toys.” ■

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