Lenhart Toy

It’s so much fun to watch the kids play with the toys and then pick one!

Harry and Rod are life-long and active members of Bethel Lutheran Church, a vibrant congregation outside of Stahlstown, Pennsylvania. Every Sunday morning, folks from all around the area drive through the always-scenic Laurel Mountains to gather in worship, and to enjoy the warmth and fellowship that are such an important part of Bethel’s life and ministry. The congregation recently built a new gathering-area where people can come together for conversations and fellowship, and recently expanded its kitchen to accommodate the growing needs of people who depend upon the many volunteers who gather at Bethel each weekday to prepare and deliver meals. But several years ago, Harry and Rod were attracting to something they saw in Living Lutheran, a monthly magazine that shares the stories of life-giving ministries that are happening throughout the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Rod told me that he and his Dad first saw a short story, in Living Lutheran, about a man who was making wooden toys to give to little children. “We thought that it would be great to use our woodworking skills to do the same thing,” Rod said, “and so, we called the man whose story was being told in the article and we asked him how he got started.”

Not long after that, saws began to hum – sawdust began to fly – and wooden toys began to appear. Harry imagined making the project a win-win for all involved. “We spent months cutting-out the toys and preparing them for assembly,” Harry said, “and then we enlisted the help of our friends and family members at the church.” Two people grew into five. Five people quickly grew into ten. Soon, there were more than 15 toy-makers assembling the toys in the Fellowship Hall. “The workers just wanted to help kids in the community have something special at Christmas,” Rod said. “We just wanted kids to have a toy under the tree on Christmas morning.”

Harry and Rod – and their faithful Christmas “elves” – have made more than 400 wooden toys in the last three years. “We worked with our local welfare office,” Rod says, “and we invited children from all around the area to simply come and play with the toys. We would just let the children play with whatever toys they chose; and, then, we’d tell them to pick one to take home. We’d watch the children’s eyes begin to open wide and see their jaws drop. That heart-warming experience would make our day!”

When I asked Harry and Rod to tell me a little bit about how God’s working in their lives through this ministry, they said, “We’re using our woodworking skills to help kids. We have learned to appreciate what we have and the relationships that we’re forming. We’ve seen so many people who want to work together to do good things. And we have even been helped by the Thrivent Action Teams program that supplies some financial assistance to groups of people who want to work together to do life-changing things.”

Harry and Rod agree that their wooden toy ministry in a “win” for everybody who chooses to be involved. Rod said, “Kids experience something positive, and the volunteers see the good that they’re doing. This ministry has changed my life.” Harry continues, “I enjoy the relationships and spending time with the people because I know that what we’re doing is impacting lives. It’s rewarding to see the kids smile and express their appreciation.”

As our time together came to an end, I asked Harry and Rod to tell me about ways that people can help them to expand and keep this life-changing ministry alive. “What we need more than anything else,” Rod said, “are kids who want toys.” “It can be hard to find places to give-away the toys we make,” Harry says, “because we like to enjoy spending time with the kids and watching their faces glow when they’re told that they get to take a toy home.”

“Christmas for Kids” has become a relationship-building ministry where those who make the toys enjoy connecting with kids who will receive them. If you live in Southwestern PA and would like me to help you connect with Harry and Rod, please contact me by: