NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. - Thousands of sick children across Tampa Bay may not receive handmade toys due to a fire Wednesday that ripped through the ToyMakers Inc. workshop in New Port Richey.
"We'll do it," said Tom Loughlin, his voice cracking. "One way or the other."
Loughlin, a volunteer toy maker, donated land in his backyard to build the workshop. He told ABC Action News a squirrel nibbled through some electrical wires and caused the fire.
All the equipment, workshop, wood and 3,000 wheels that were ready to be painted and put on the toys were lost.
The nonprofit has no money to replace the equipment and donated wood. They rely on material and monetary donations from the general public to operate.
The organization consists entirely of volunteers who make simple wooden toys for sick and needy children in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties.
Every year volunteers make and donate about 20,000 toys.
The toys are delivered to 27 different agencies in Tampa Bay including All Children's Hospital, All Children's Specialty Care, all the Ronald McDonald Houses, Salvation Army, Shriner's Hospital, St. Joseph's Cancer Institute, Tampa Children's Hospital, Youth and Family Alternatives, County Fire and Rescues as well as police and fire departments.
The organization has been operating since 1982 and has delivered more than 32,000 toys.
"The toy-making operation is at a standstill until we rebuild," Loughlin said.
All of the wooden toys, according to Loughlin, are designed to be safe and contain no nails, screws or staples. Child-safe paint is also used and volunteers round off all corners for safety purposes.
"The doctor said $10,000 worth of tests couldn't have done what that one toy did," Loughlin said of a sick boy who received a toy and responded to doctors for the first time.
Some finished toys are in storage.
"We've got enough toys to make the next couple of deliveries but after that we are going to be out," said Carl Hansen, the organization's treasurer.
Hansen and Loughlin are asking the public to please help donate tools and supplies so they can get back to work.
"It could be four or five months before we can be back in operation. And if we don't start planning wood really soon, we are not going to be able to fill the pipeline, and we are going to be in trouble," Hansen said.
The volunteers remain optimistic. They told ABC Action News the only thing that survived the fire is a brass sign that proudly hung outside the workshop that read, "The Toymakers Workshop." They feel the sign's survival symbolizes that they will rebuild and get back to work.
If you would like to donate money, equipment, tools or a temporary work area, please contact:
The Toymakers Inc.
10518 Miracle Lane
New Port Richey, FL 34654