Man makes, donates boxes of toys to children at WISE shelter

TOY MAKER: Ed Thomas spends hours at a time in his woodshop making toys for children around the United States. (Pioneer photo/Katlyn Vuillemot)

TOY MAKER: Ed Thomas spends hours at a time in his woodshop making toys for children around the United States. (Pioneer photo/Katlyn Vuillemot)

FREMONT — When Ed Thomas was just 12 years old, he was surprised with a gift that would one day turn into a symbol of hope for not only himself, but hundreds of children.

On a special day in 1962, a truck pulled up to Ed’s house in Big Rapids and to his surprise dropped off all the tools his grandfather kept in his woodshop.

Ed had always been interested in woodworking and when his grandfather decided to give away the shop, he thought of Ed.

“That day is significant to me because my grandfather had Parkinson’s,” Ed said. “When my grandfather passed down his tools, that’s when my toy making began.”

In 2009, Ed was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Since then he has used his woodworking as a form of “toy therapy.”

“The biggest reason they get made is because I don’t sleep at night because of my Parkinson’s,” Ed said. “I probably sleep two or three hours at night. So to pass the time, I like to make toys.”

Almost 53 years later, with the help of his wife, Linda, Ed has made hundreds of toys for children all over America including children in his hometown of Big Rapids, who now stay in the very house it all started.

The shelter that now provides a safe haven for women and children holds a special place in Ed and Linda’s hearts. It’s the same place where Ed grew up and the home the couple lived in after they were married.

MIRACLE WORKER: Ed Thomas has made hundreds of toys in the past 53 years for children in need of cheering up. Toys range from animals, to planes, to puzzles, to doll houses and castles. (Pioneer photo/Katlyn Vuillemot)

MIRACLE WORKER: Ed Thomas has made hundreds of toys in the past 53 years for children in need of cheering up. Toys range from animals, to planes, to puzzles, to doll houses and castles. (Pioneer photo/Katlyn Vuillemot)

A few years ago, Ed called up the staff at the Women’s Information Services Inc. shelter and asked if the children would like some toys he had made.

WISE provides an emergency shelter and support for women and children involved in domestic and sexual violence.

“We didn’t realize Ed grew up in this house we have turned into a rescue shelter until he came one day and told us his story,” said Lisa Spinner, child advocate at WISE. “It’s really neat knowing that he learned how to make the toys in the shelter’s basement and is now paying it forward donating back to the kids who stay here.”

For the last few years, Ed and his wife have dropped off boxes of toys for the children at the shelter.

“This house is really sentimental to him as well as to us and we all have a special place in our hearts for him,” Spinner said.

With his Parkinson’s progressing, Ed finds himself making more toys than he has in the past.

“I’m very blessed because I’m steady as a rock when I’m working,” he said. “And luckily my wife doesn’t mind the sounds of the saw at night.”

Not only has Linda been Ed’s support through the years, but she also is the brains behind many of his toys.

“I do most of the work, but she picks out the paints,” Ed said. “Some nights I’ll work on the toys all night and when she gets up I’ll show her what I made.”

Linda laughed, replying, “Some of them we don’t agree on, but 99 percent of them we both like.”

With the support of many Fremont community members, Ed has made more toys than he can keep.

“What do you do with a kazillion toys? You can’t keep them all,” Linda said. “So Ed started calling people up and asking them if they wanted toys.”

BEATING THE ODDS: Ed Thomas designed and assembled this T-Rex before his Parkinson's Disease made it too hard to do. Today, this toy sits above his TV for friends and family to see. (Pioneer photo/Katlyn Vuillemot)

BEATING THE ODDS: Ed Thomas designed and assembled this T-Rex before his Parkinson’s Disease made it too hard to do. Today, this toy sits above his TV for friends and family to see. (Pioneer photo/Katlyn Vuillemot)

Throughout the last few years, Ed and Linda have donated boxes of toys to as many children as they can, including to a nonprofit organization called “Team Keegan” that collects toys for children who have cancer.

“During a trip to the emergency room because of Ed’s Parkinson’s, we sat for hours waiting to see the doctors,” Linda said. “While we were in there, we met this little boy who was just so good even though he was hurting and at that point we wished we had toys with us to give to him.”

From that day forward, Ed and Linda have kept a box of toys in their car in case they found a special person who needed some cheering up.

“We found it to be very interesting. We have discovered God says, ‘That toy goes to that person,'” Linda said. “We have discovered that each toy has a purpose. Sometimes, we learn that some of these children don’t have much. It’s just amazing the stories we have learned along the way.”

For the entire 53 years Ed has been making toys, he has never sold them.

“It’s important for me not to sell them because if I sell them, then I have a business and I feel like I have to make them,” he said. “I don’t make them because I have to. I make them because I enjoy doing it.”

Ed and Linda have received dozens of gifts from around their community, including gallons of paint he uses for his toys.

“The manager of ACE Hardware is so kind to me,” Ed said. “He donates a bunch of stuff and when they get cans of paint that someone doesn’t want, he gives them to me.”

Ed’s shop, which is now in the basement of his home in Fremont, is filled with every color of paint imaginable, toys covering all surfaces, scraps of wood on shelves and hundreds of toy patterns he follows.

“Some days making the toys is all that keeps him going,” Linda smiled. “And he does very well. I’ll vouch for him.”

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Posted by Katlyn Vuillemot

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