A Real Santa’s Workshop

Carving memories Larry Vorbrich and his crew at Apple Country Woodcrafters work year-round to make lasting, quality toys for area kids. Photo by Matt Rose.

Larry Vorbrich and his crew at Apple Country Woodcrafters work year-round to make lasting, quality toys for area kids. Photo by Matt Rose.

Imagine a room overflowing with 1,500 toys, but not a Disney face or bit of plastic in sight. Everything from wooden hippos to handcrafted rocking horses wait patiently for Christmas Day, all under the watchful eye of the Apple Country Woodcrafters. For more than two decades, this Hendersonville woodworking group has made countless handmade toys for local children who might otherwise go without presents under the tree.

The woodcrafters partner with eight social-service agencies that work with children in the region, including the Salvation Army, the Edneyville Lions Club, and the Calvary Food Pantry. Some organizations wrap the gifts and put them under a tree for the kids to discover. Other groups put together shopping markets so parents can pick out the ideal gifts for their own children.

All of the toys leave the woodcrafters’ workshop on one glorious day in early December. “It’s really quite a sight to see these 1,500 toys there,” says Larry Vorbrich, toy chairman for the Apple Country Woodcrafters.

The group’s more than 100 members work year-round, crafting each toy by hand in their community workshop. Like Santa’s elves, there’s no rest for the weary; toymaking starts again right after Christmas. Vorbrich says it’s rewarding for many of his fellow woodcrafters to spend their retirement years bringing comfort and happiness to local kids.

“It’s very gratifying,” says Vorbrich. He gets personal enjoyment out of building the toys, but says it’s fulfilling to know that they have a life beyond the woodshop. “You get to hand that to somebody that gets all kinds of joy out of it.”
Handcrafted wooden toys are a bit of a lost art in a world full of factory-molded figurines and video games. Many kids move on to electronics early in childhood, leaving wooden toys behind. A wooden wagon or doll crib might seem old-fashioned at first glance, but Vorbrich says a simple stack of wooden blocks is often one of the most popular toys that the group makes.

The rustic result may look simple, but woodworking, having been around for millennia, is a complex art. Turners, whittlers, carvers, furniture makers — all bring something different. The organization holds monthly meetings and field trips and welcomes every level of skill, from hobbyists to master craftspeople.

The letters of appreciation and the fact that these one-of-a-kind toys last for decades give the Apple Country Woodcrafters momentum to keep the ambitious yearly project going. The long afternoons spent crafting these toys by hand conjures images of elves working tirelessly to make sure each child has a jolly holiday.

Though the woodcrafters aren’t exactly Santa’s indentured servants, Vorbrich says they do share a similar mission.

“You can be in there and say, ‘Yeah, I’ve walked into a Santa’s workshop.’”

To learn more about Apple Country Woodcrafters, its mission, and its holiday activities, see www.applecountrywoodcrafters.org.

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