If you drove past the former fire station in Hamburg, Michigan, you probably wouldn’t think much about it, but once you step inside, it’s like walking into Santa’s workshop.
Instead of elves, there are a dozen or so retirees working away, busy cutting blocks of wood into various shapes. There are dolphins, elephants, snowmen and race cars, just to name a few.
The blocks are organized and shipped to more than 40 different medical facilities across the country for kids who are stuck in the hospital instead of being out at school or the playground with their friends and family.
This place is called Bennett’s Beavers, and it’s truly helping the lives of these children.
Bennett’s Beavers was started more than 20 years ago in the garage of Jim Bennett’s house.
Bennett just wanted to give back to the community and do something good for children who were stuck in the hospital.
It has now grown to the point where Bennett’s Beavers operates in the town’s former fire station, with a couple dozen volunteers who want to do some good, as well.
“It’s a big part of our life,” Jim Bennett said. “We spend, I can’t tell you how many hours, (but it’s) because we want to.”
He and his wife, Marilyn, have been running the operation from the very beginning, and one of the main reasons they love it so much was seeing all the joy it brought the kids at the hospital when they’d arrive with a box full of wooden toys, waiting to be painted.
“It was really gratifying to see -- for instance, (at) a Christmas party, and (you’d) see the parents come in and sit down with their kids and find something to paint and work with,” Marilyn Bennett said. “I thought that was always a plus.”
Over the years, Bennett’s Beavers has amassed quite a crew of retirees who help to make it all happen, and the group’s current president and vice president started off just as volunteers.
“I understood that Bennett’s Beavers was 100 percent a volunteer charity,” said Ray Crews, the vice president and treasurer of Bennett’s Beavers. “What they were doing for the kids at the hospital throughout the country, I decided this was a good way for me to make a contribution.”
Bennett’s Beavers has an assembly line setup, where volunteers cut wood, stamp on designs, cut the designs into shapes, and so on.
You’re almost in awe when you first walk into the building and see that these are folks who are doing this for free, from the goodness of their hearts.
Anne Mende, who is a retired activity therapist at one of the hospitals Bennett’s Beavers donates toys to, has seen firsthand just how much joy the group brings to the children.
“The most important activity, the most fun activity, is painting wood crafts,” Mende said. “They love painting, and so now, it’s progressed from painting from just one hospital to over 40 different hospitals for these kids. It’s amazing.”
What’s truly incredible about Bennett’s Beavers is that it was just an idea that one person had, and it has now grown to touch the lives of so many different people.
“This was a small idea that has become a very, very big and positive experience for everybody,” said Margaret Allison, Jim Bennett’s sister.
After 20 years of making toys, Jim Bennett is nothing but proud of what he has built over the years.
“I’ve watched it grow and enjoyed it,” Bennett said. “We had our knocks along the way, but it’s been a wonderful experience.”
And as for Marilyn, it’s been a pleasure to not only see how happy it makes the children at the hospital, but the volunteers who give their free time to make it all happen.
“Nobody is here because they have to be. That’s the big thing. That’s the general feeling when we’re all at some event. They’re here because they want to be here,” Marilyn Bennett said. “Or their wife has kicked them out of the house for day,” she added jokingly.
To learn more about Bennett’s Beavers, click or tap here.