Now in a spacious new shop, Tiny Tim’s Foundation for Kids is producing more than toy cars
Mar 11, 2020 01:55PM
By Carl Fauver
Toymaker Alton Thacker, his desk and the clutter surrounding it remain the same, but his volunteer shop is now in a much larger West Jordan location. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
A new era is dawning for Alton Thacker and his charitable Tiny Tim’s Foundation for Kids, in a variety of ways. The operation is now in a new West Jordan location — three times the size of the old one — with more volunteers than ever before, making a wider variety of items than ever before.
Oh, and due to recent health issues, Thacker, 84, is also grooming his son-in-law to take over management of the ever-growing enterprise, ensuring the operation that has already constructed and donated more than a million toy cars will continue on, for generations to come.
“As I continue in this work, I am learning things about charity,” Thacker said. “It is a stewardship. We are obligated to take care of people. I’m trying now to do some things to ensure (the foundation) continues on, long after I am gone.”
The most visible change Tiny Tim’s Foundation has undertaken in recent years was Thacker’s move last month into a spacious shop across the street from West Jordan’s Airport 2. His first day producing toy cars at the new site (6818 South Airport Road) was Feb. 13.
“We were getting cramped in our new location, particularly as more and more volunteers began to join us,” Thacker said. “Then our previous landlord raised our rent to $1,250 per month. Now we are in this 5,000-square-foot shop — three times the size of the old shop — with rent at $2000 per month, half its normal rate.”
The new landlord, who essentially is making a monthly $2,000 donation to Tiny Tim’s Foundation for Kids, is former West Jordan Mayor Dave Newton.
“Alton is doing a marvelous thing in two different ways, and we are happy to make this donation,” Newton said. “First, he’s making toys for kids around the world. But that’s not even the most important thing he is doing. He is also giving an opportunity to men and women in our community to make a meaningful contribution by donating their time. My wife and I are pleased to help.”
This is the second time Newton has donated to Thacker’s cause. Two decades ago, when the toymaker was just getting started, Thacker moved his fledgling operation into the former mayor’s West Jordan garage for two years.
“I still have dust in my garage from that,” Newton said. In the 46 years he and his wife have been in their West Jordan home, Newton says the city’s population has grown from 5,000 residents to 115,000.
In addition to the 5,000-square-foot workshop, the foundation’s new space also includes 2,500 square feet of offices. And one big room in that area will allow Alton to expand another part of his growing charitable operation.
“For about four years now, we have been donating clothing items to needy families in Zimbabwe,” Thacker said. “But we were limited by space. This new location will allow us to create a sewing room. And we are also arranging someone to teach volunteers how to sew.”
Among the items being donated to the Southeast African nation — 9,700 miles from West Jordan — are some things Thacker calls “T-shirt dresses.”
“We sew fabric at the bottom of donated T-shirts to create the dresses,” Thacker said. “When we started this about four years ago, we made and shipped 5,000 T-shirt dresses. But now we make too many to count.”
Other items being made for needy families in Zimbabwe include: baby wraps, shorts, receiving blankets and knitted caps. Ski caps in Africa?
“It often gets to 114 degrees and hotter over there,” Thacker said. “And, believe it or not, the knit caps help keep heads cooler.”
Thacker said the foundation is now hoping to receive a few donated sewing machines to expand this part of his charitable operation. Anyone with a machine to offer — or anything else to donate — can get more details at tinytimstoys.org.
As for Thacker’s toy cars, he continues to take personal pride in producing more of them every year. In 2019, that total rose to 124,000 cars, more than 10,000 per month. In June 2018, his volunteers constructed the foundation’s 1 millionth toy car.
“We lost a couple of (toymaking) weeks during this move, but with the added space for more volunteers, I’m confident we’ll make it up and beat last year’s record — we always have,” Thacker said. “I now have 35 to 40 people — mostly men but women once in a while — volunteering their time.”
At age 84, Thacker is about in the middle of his senior demographic.
“I made a trip to Mexico with Alton to help him donate items years ago, and have been anxious to become involved ever since,” said volunteer Nile Thacker, 72, Alton’s cousin.
“I take great pleasure in the comradery we have here,” volunteer Jim Turnbull, 73, said. “You won’t find a better group to work with anywhere.”
Recent health issues for Alton Thacker have prompted him to begin preparing for future generations.
“I thought about just quitting, but if I did, that’s 124,000 kids who would not receive a toy car this year,” he said. “So, instead, I decided to no longer be the decision maker. I just want to make toys and have fun. So, Mike is now making the decisions.”
Mike Bradley, 67, is Alton Thacker’s son-in-law, who for now anyway, lives with his wife three hours away in Vernal.
“I retired in 2016, and since August of 2018 I have been driving out from Vernal on Mondays and back again on Thursdays in order to make cars and help Alton run the foundation,” Bradley said. “But now my wife (Alton’s daughter Kim) has also retired. We will soon start looking for a home out here. If it was not for the foundation, we wouldn’t make the move. We’ll be leaving three kids and 10 grandkids in Vernal. But I love what Alton has been doing for all these years, and I want to help out.”
So, this new decade of the 2020s promises to be one of change for Tiny Tim’s Foundation for Kids. But with more volunteers than ever before, a bigger workspace than ever before and next-generation leadership now in place, it appears youngsters around the world will continue to receive toy cars for a long time to come. And underprivileged residents of Zimbabwe are also expected to see even more of the clothing staples they have come to rely upon from Alton and his tireless band of volunteers.