PITTSBURG — Santa’s elves are in town, busy at work carefully cutting and sanding little wooden toy trucks and motorcycles for children in need.
Okay, maybe these “elves” are not your average elf. Regardless of their height and lack of pointy ears, they are helping make children’s Christmas bright.
The toys will be donated to Toys for Tots, locally coordinated by (Ret.) Master Gunnery Sgt. Lynden Lawson, a 2012 graduate of the PSU Human Resource Development program, and his wife, Kris Lawson, an assistant professor in History, Philosophy, and Social Sciences.
The program, run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, provides Christmas toys for children and in 2017 the program impacted over 1,500 children in Southeast Kansas.
“What makes this program worth all of our time and effort is the hope that each toy gives to a kid at Christmas,” Lynden Lawson said. “They are why we do it, and we believe that is why so many of our friends and neighbors throughout Crawford and Cherokee counties help us too.”
Last year, Toys for Tots bought 470 toys and received 786 toys from the Toys for Tots Foundation.  Local donations included 1,023 toys, 45 books and 225 stocking stuffers, “all because of the overwhelming generosity of the businesses and people living in our community,” Lawson said.
Nationally, the Toys for Tots foundation has distributed 548 million toys to 251 million children since 1947, a release said. It is a “top-rated charity,” with 96.7 percent of cash donations goes to providing toys, books, and other gifts.
“The remaining 3.3 percent goes to fundraising and not one donated dollar goes to foundation salaries,” Lawson said. “Locally, the money we collect is money we spend in our community for toys that we distribute to kids in our community.
“Toys that we collect, like the wonderful handcrafted wooden trucks made by the PSU students, also go to kids in our community.”  
One of the “elves,” Chris Wernimont, brought the idea to Pittsburg State University.
“Personally, it is something that warms my heart,” he said. “I’m able to use my skills and talents to help somebody else in need.
“All my majors help me directly, but at the end of the day it’s less fulfilling if all you are working on is yourself and you’re not working towards a better goal.”
Wernimont took woodworking shop in high school — at Blue Valley Northwest in Overland Park — and hasn’t left woodworking since. During his time at at Blue Valley, he and his classmates created wooden toys for children.
Now he’s a sophomore at PSU, triple majoring in Architectural Manufacturing Management Technology, Marketing and Management.
He contacted Toys for Tots and asked if they would be interested in receiving handmade toys to donate to children.
They said yes, and Wernimont went right to work.
The creation of the toys began months ago and this past summer Wernimont had an internship in North Port, Florida where he began drafting the design.  
“I used the drafter and skills they taught me and I took it from there,” he said.
Wernimont is not the only elf working on this project. He belongs to a student group called Society of Architectural Woodworkers.
Wernimont praised the group for their good work, especially those who were utilizing machines they had never used before.
Spencer Baum, Architectural Manufacturing Management Technology student, was glad to take on the task, he said.
“We are able to do something we are passionate about and see kids benefit from it,” Baum said. “It also makes other people happy, it’s a really good cause to be part of.”
Baum and Wernimont said their professors and graduate assistants have been supportive of their project, offering guidance and help when needed.
PSU Assistant Professor and AMMT Program Coordinator Charlie Phillips said the project is beneficial for all involved, encouraging student to become engaged in woodworking, while working towards a cause.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.