The Giving Tree Helps Volunteers Get Back on Track

Disadvantaged adults add meaning and purpose to their lives at Seattle's The Giving Tree, where they make toys for children.

At the small craft shop in Seattle, men bend silently over blocks of wood, carving, painting, and assembling the pieces. Many of these men have suffered through intense addictions to drugs or alcohol, or battled psychiatric problems; a large number of them were once homeless. But today, in this sacred space, none of it matters. They are unified in their mission: creating toys for children.

The Giving Tree in Seattle, Wash., is a nonprofit organization founded 20 years ago with two purposes: to give disadvantaged people a safe place to come and work, and to provide toys for impoverished children throughout the city. The volunteers work to design and build a variety of beautiful painted wooden toys, including trains, boats, and rocking horses.

“The work we do unites us,” says the Giving Tree’s director, Clare Cronkleton. She claims that the woodworking process is a common language “that paves the way for healing and recovery.”

Many of the wooden toys built by Giving Tree volunteers are sold at their own Woodshop on Westlake, the Pike Place Market, and online; others are donated to children’s shelters within the city.

The organization has also built toys to benefit other community organizations. For last winter’s Providence Hospice of Seattle Foundation Winter Gala, Giving Tree volunteers crafted wooden ornaments to hang on a Christmas tree. The ornament-covered tree was then auctioned off for $17,000, with all proceeds going to charity.

The volunteers “start to get a new sense of self-worth” through their work with the Giving Tree, says Cronkleton. For those still in transition from a life on the streets, it’s “a nice, safe place to be as they get everything in order. What could be better than a toy shop?”

To learn more about some of the Giving Tree’s volunteers, watch this slideshow:

If you’d like to purchase any of their hand-crafted wooden toys, please visit their Web site: