Charity Spotlight: R.J. Scheffel Memorial Toy Project

Creating joy for children in need with handmade wooden toys.

R.J. Scheffel Memorial Toy Project makes handcrafted wooden toys, games, and memory boxes and donates them to children in need. Whether homeless, in poverty, sick, or otherwise disadvantaged, every child deserves to smile and play.

In this charity spotlight, I spoke with a few of R.J. Scheffel Memorial Toy Project’s elves: Larry Koster, Gene Klco, Joe Pohl, and Tony Bauer.

Origin Story

In 1958, Reuben J. Scheffel was a grocery store owner who lived in southwest Lansing. Each winter, Reuben noticed that there were kids in his neighborhood who weren’t getting much in the way of toys at Christmas, but they were great kids who deserved a little something.

The grocer decided to help the kids out. Reuben started making wooden toys to give to children at Christmas. Fellow members of the Everett Kiwanis Club got involved too. They helped find materials and Reuben kept making toys in his spare time.

The tradition kept going for nearly twenty years, well into Reuben’s retirement. By the time Reuben passed away in 1978, his project had made such a large impact on the community that his friends and fellow Kiwanis members decided to keep his tradition going.

In 1982, the R.J. Scheffel Memorial Toy Project was established in honor of Reuben and to continue his loving craft of making wooden toys for children in need.


R.J Scheffel Memorial Toy Project is an all-volunteer workshop that does everything from acquiring lumber and designing toys to assembling and painting the finished pieces. There are over forty different toys that the project can create.

Volunteers use wish lists to determine which toys—and how many—they try to make each year. The wish list always has thousands of toys on it, so they can’t guarantee they’ll fill all requests, but they do take measures to make sure every toy is high quality and can be made as quickly as possible.

The toy project uses a mix of grants and public support to pay for space, utilities, tools, and materials. They provide toys to dozens of organizations, including Ele’s Place, Salvation Army of Lansing, Child Abuse Prevention Services (CAPS), and various Kiwanis Clubs.

Many of the toy shop’s elves are senior citizens who volunteer through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), but the group welcomes contributors of all ages. Volunteers tend to work together in the mornings and, amazingly, no more than three mornings a week.

Big Wins

The Scheffel Toy Project has made more than 100,000 toys over the past fifteen years! The organization prides themselves in helping thousands of kids each year without charging for their toys. Those kinds of numbers also quell any thoughts that wooden toys are a thing of the past.


The project’s wish list of toys has been steadily increasing. Ten years ago, the group made 6,000 toys in a year. This year, the project received their biggest wish list to date. It has well over 10,000 toys on it! The organization can’t promise that they’ll be able to supply that many toys, but they are definitely going to try.

For Nonprofits

When you establish a nonprofit, pick a single mission and focus solely on that. Tony also recommends making that mission clear to volunteers and anyone else working with your organization. The stronger you can connect people to your cause and show them the impact they are making, the more dedication you will receive.

For Volunteers

If your volunteer time is limited to during the week, weekend, or even seasonally, make sure you discuss your schedule with a nonprofit before you start. Having this talk up front will let you know how flexible they can be with your time. It also gives the nonprofit an idea of how much support they have and need from volunteers.

Camaraderie is also very important for volunteer-based organizations. Try to maintain a positive attitude, take breaks with other volunteers, and get together once in a while for dinner. It helps keep the work fun.

Get Involved

If you want to learn more about the R.J. Scheffel Memorial Toy Project, you can reach them by clicking one of the buttons below.

Photographs Courtesy of Ian Kast.