CEDAR CITY — Much like Santa Claus’ workshop at the North Pole thousands of miles away, The Happy Factory is a place where toys are made for children around the world. But this toy factory is a little closer to home.
Donna Cooley, who co-founded The Happy Factory with her late husband Charles Cooley, said her husband had started making small wooden toy cars in a shed behind their home in Cedar City shortly after they both retired in 1995.
“Just making sawdust,” is how Charles described his woodworking hobby at the time, Donna Cooley explained with a chuckle. But after seeing how much joy their handmade toys brought to the young patients at Primary Children’s Medical Center, the Cooleys knew they had to keep the momentum going.
Thanks to the assistance and support of several early donors, The Happy Factory eventually expanded into a full-fledged operation capable of producing hundreds of toys per day.
“It just blossomed and grew,” Cooley told Cedar City News. “Truly, it’s a miracle.”
Although Charles Cooley died in 2011 at age 81, his legacy continues to thrive.The Happy Factory continues to turn out hundreds of toys each workday, operating out of a small shop in an industrial warehouse area at 896 N. 2175 West in Cedar City.
Now in its 25th year of operation, The Happy Factory has produced more than 1.5 million toys to date, distributing them to organizations, hospitals, orphanages, schools and other groups and individuals in more than 160 countries.
The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization’s stated mission is to provide the children of the world a small, high quality wooden toy so every child has at least one toy.
One of the organization’s oft-repeated sayings is “We may not be able to make a toy for every child in the world that needs one, but we’re going to try!” accompanied by the tagline “Toys that Love Builds.”
Along those same lines, Donna Cooley said her husband once woke her up in the middle of the night and had her jot down an idea that soon became another Happy Factory motto, also known as its secret recipe: “We take some wood that would be wasted, mix it with some time that would be wasted, and make a toy to stimulate a little mind so that it won’t be wasted.”
Much like Santa’s workforce of elves, the toymakers at The Happy Factory are volunteers who donate their time and expertise. According to the organization’s estimates, on an average day at the workshop, some 13.9 people work 3.1 hours each, for a total of 42.9 volunteer man-hours each day.
This adds up over the course of a typical year to be more than 1,100 volunteers visiting The Happy Factory, working as individuals, pairs, small groups or larger groups and helping create tens of thousands of toys. The volunteer workers come not only from Southern Utah but from all over the world, Cooley noted.
This volunteer labor is used for every step of the process of turning lumber scraps into small toy cars and trucks. Originally, the toys were painted bright colors, but nowadays a simple coat of mineral oil is applied to the natural wood at the final stage. The finished toys are then placed into boxes of 100 per carton and shipped to areas all over the world.
In addition to the toy vehicles, The Happy Factory also makes wooden blocks and small “steam shovels” with adjustable arms that can be manipulated by children.
Such toys have a therapeutic benefit, said Paul Cozzens, president of The Happy Factory’s board of trustees and an Iron County commissioner.
“These steam shovels have been donated to many rehabilitation centers,” Cozzens said. “The children are very excited to use the shovels, much more so than the typical forms of rehabilitation. It is awesome to see it help them in their progress.”
The Happy Factory organization has no paid employees; even the administrators, managers and board of directors serve voluntarily.
“One hundred percent of every dollar donated is used for the production and distribution of toys,” Cozzens said, adding that each toy costs approximately $1 to make and send.
Once each year, The Happy Factory hosts a large fundraising gala to thank its supporters and to raise funds for the upcoming year. This year’s event, which attracted hundreds of attendees. took place at the main ballroom of the Sharwan Smith Student Center on the Southern Utah University campus the evening of Oct. 10.
Those interested in volunteering or contributing financially may contact The Happy Factory by calling 435-586-8352, emailing [email protected], or by visiting the organization’s website or Facebook page.
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