Brightly coloured handmade wooden hot rods, semi-trailers and helicopters clutter Dave Smith’s workstation.
For the past two years, Mr Smith has been volunteering at the Kempsey Men’s Shed, building toys to send to children in Angola, Africa.
Initially he worked on the toys for about 15 hours a week, but now it has become like a full-time job.
“We start with an industrial pallet, so the timber is all recycled, then we draw on the shape of a helicopter and one of the other men, who happens to have Parkinson’s disease, cuts out the shape,” he said.
“The men sand it, give it two coats of paint and you end up with a little race car.
“The girls have recently told me that little girls don’t want to play with cars, so now we have boxes full of timber giraffes and ducks to make pull-along animals on wheels.”
Mr Smith said he would never be able to get the job done if he did not receive invaluable help from Kempsey’s elderly community.
Nimble painters in local nursing homes
Every fortnight, Mr Smith runs craft classes in local nursing homes for residents with Alzheimer’s disease, who help him paint the toys.
“I have to take along 50 helicopters every time I visit because they paint them so quickly,” he said.
“I had three elderly ladies, one was 93 years old, and they used to race each other. They would say ‘I’ve done 15 today, how many have you done?’
“I was run off my feet keeping up with them.”
Mr Smith said providing the classes to the Alzheimer’s sufferers was what kept him passionate about the project.
“The end product is great. I realise my little toy helicopters won’t solve the problems in Africa, but keeping elderly people in Kempsey happy is much more important to me,” he said.
“Alzheimer’s disease is not very easy to relate to and it’s a very sad thing to see people you care about suffering from.
“I have become very close with these people, and it’s wonderful to see them enjoying contributing to something they believe is very important.”
Where are the toys now?
Despite having made and sent more 500 toys this year alone, Mr Smith has never had any feedback from the charity distributing them.
“The toy donations are dispatched by the Uniting Church and I believe they are added to hampers that are then sent to Angola,” he said.
“These hampers are for the mothers. They have sheets, towels and underclothes in there, then throw in a few wooden toys.”
Mr Smith said the patients he worked with would love to see how their toys had impacted the community in Angola.
“I’ve easily got another 500 toys ready to be sent, but we would like to know where they end up,” he said.
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