Anyone who believes Christmas comes but once a year has obviously never met Mike and Judy Sullivan. The couple, who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, spend most days making toys in the workshop of their Desert Hot Springs, California home that they then donate to local charities each holiday season.
When Mike, a 72-year-old, 26-year army vet retired, he and Judy signed up for a woodworking club. It started as a hobby, but after witnessing the yuletide happiness their handmade playthings brought local families, it became their new vocation. Seven years on, the pair continues to churn out toys at a pace that would give Santa’s elves a run for their money.
Mike is in charge of toy production while Judy handles decoration and quality control. Their 15 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren serve as testers and focus groups.
Mike Sullivan’s love of woodworking is something of a family tradition. Sullivan grew up in Montana. His dad was a miner. The family didn’t have a lot of money, but both his elder brothers were carpenters, so many of the Christmas presents he received as a child were homemade.
“Most of the things I got were handmade toys. They were wonderful toys, I know how much I enjoyed them and just hope that kids that get them now still do,” he said.
This year, the pandemic meant many families didn’t have funds to cover non-essentials, which made the Sullivans’ mission more important than ever. Mike and Judy embraced the challenge, creating and distributing close to 1,400 toys that included animal figures, puzzles, and trucks, to name just a few.
COVID-19 also meant they had to be mindful of social distancing, masking, and scheduling, but the couple persevered.
The Sullivans’ toys made their way to a local kindergarten class, Coachella Valley Rescue Mission, a food pantry, and other charitable organizations—all of them free of charge (including postage for items sent out of state as far as Indiana and Texas).
With their out of pocket costs estimated at close to $19,000 last year, the Sullivans launched a GoFundMe page to ensure they’d be able to keep the flow of toys coming. (Mike’s hoping to purchase a 3-D laser printer so he can kick production into a higher gear.)
Mike and Judy say they plan to continue making toys as long as they’re able. “We’re both in good health and are able to be out here six to seven days a week for eight to 10 hours,” Sullivan told CNN. “It’s so much fun, it feels like home here in the shop working things out.”
Mike admits that while they very rarely get a chance to see the kids as they receive their gifts, just knowing a family’s Christmas will be much merrier thanks to their efforts makes it all worthwhile.
“It makes me feel very very warm inside. I love it,” Judy told KESQ-TV News 3. “I wouldn’t change anything for the world.”
And that’s exactly the spirit that keeps Christmas alive, not just one day, but 365 days a year.