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Last year for retired elves to make toys

-  Age catches up to Boeing volunteers who have spent 30 years making seasons bright


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: Q MADP - The 2013 crew of Boeing volunteers. There was joy and sadness in the air Friday morning as about 20 people worked to break down and package up hundreds of baby doll cribs to be given to needy girls for Christmas.

In a blocked off section of the cafeteria at the Boeing Company plant in Gresham, the group also packed up hundreds of handmade wooden choo-choo trains and little cars that will go to boys who might not get much else.

Kelly Broomall and other members of Holiday Community Outreach are all retired Boeing employees who work year round to make the toys and then give them away.

But this is the last year the handmade gifts will be built and distributed, Broomall said. The effort has been going on for more than 30 years, but will end due to the advancing age and deaths of some of the volunteers.

The toys also go to children in hospitals and to children of fallen veterans, he said, through many organizations including Shriners Hospitals.

“We lost two more this year and it gets harder and harder,” he said. “We don’t have anybody backfilling the ones we lose and there’s no one to take it over. It’s too big a project.”

Although the numbers in the group have diminished, the average age is about the same. When Broomall started the group in 1979, he said, the youngest member was 55 and the oldest was 95. Today the youngest is 60 and the oldest, Fred Krieger, just turned 90.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: Q MADP - These are the toy cribs crafted by the retired Boeing volunteers.Krieger has the title of Lead Elf, which Broomall said is a vital position in the assembly line process that’s used to build and assemble the toys.

“He’s responsible for the rest of the elves,” Broomall said. “He cracks the whip and makes sure they’re doing things right and putting things in the right place. The toys need to be put together in order — it’s an assembly process — to make sure they do it in the correct sequence.”

Boeing lets the group use about half its cafeteria for two or three months each year, which makes it kind of crowded for employees in the lunchroom.

Broomall said five or six volunteers work year round creating the basic components of all the toys, and between 15 and 20 help with assembly and distribution.

Boeing also helps, he said, by paying for some of the wood and buying the wheels for the trains and cars and trucks and spindles and ornamental finials for the cradles.

On Friday, about 20 volunteers broke down the cradles and packaged them and the other toys in decorated boxes.

“It’s kind of sad, knowing it’s the last time,” Broomall said.

According to its website (www.holidaycommunityoutreach.org), Broomall and Sue Enders started the group in 1979 by collecting food during the holidays for local food banks. Two years later they began making cars and log trucks for kids and in 1987 made their first cradles. Ten years after that they added trains. The group still collects food for food banks and also adopts needy families for Christmas.

Just last week, Broomall and his elves from Holiday Community Outreach were honored by the Gresham Chamber of Commerce as the 2014 Volunteers of the Year.

Although he’s sad there’s no one to continue the toy tradition, for Broomall, it’s been a labor of love.

“There’s no way we can meet the demand and no way we can feed all the hungry,” he said. “But we can try.”

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