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Retirees fix old toys for the needy

December 01, 1996

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - She doesn't work at the North Pole, but Emma Helman could certainly be called one of Santa's elves.

In a workshop on Lincoln Way West in Chambersburg, Helman and dozens of other retirees are once again busy preparing for Christmas.

The group, known as the Franklin County Toy Mission, will repair, clean and make hundreds of toys for needy children throughout the county this year.

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Helman, 75, sits surrounded by dozens of dolls that she helped to clean and dress for the occasion. Each doll comes with its own handmade quilt, either crochet or patchwork.

"I've always been with the dolls, 'cause I love dollbabies," said Helman, who has volunteered at the toy mission for 16 years.

"When I was a little girl I always played with dolls."

Helman, like a few of the other volunteers, works on Toy Mission year round.

She takes home dirty and forgotten dolls and makes them as good as new and ready to light up a child's face.

"I think any little girl would be happy with a doll of any kind," she said.

Toy Mission has been a Franklin County tradition for about 50 years. The American Association of Retired Persons' Falling Spring chapter took over the operation about 16 years ago.

Last year, Toy Mission provided Christmas gifts for 1,052 children in 416 homes.

A hundred of those children got bicycles.

This year, a brand-new helmet will be given with each bike, said the Rev. John Stamm.

Stamm and M. Richard Bowers are coordinating the program this year for the first time.

"We try as best we can to give children everything they ask for," Stamm said.

In the toy inspection department, volunteer Stephen Caldwell tests the batteries in a miniature pinball machine that has a Jurassic Park theme.

"Part of it requires you be a child at heart to figure out how they work," said Caldwell, who volunteered to spend a night at Toy Mission as a member of the Chambersburg Evening Lion's Club.

Caldwell tested race cars, walkie-talkies and all kinds of toys "guaranteed to drive any parent crazy."

His personal favorite: The motorized elephant.

Three other Lion's Club volunteers were cleaning and taking inventory on games.

Lion's Club member Dan Matteo, 44, was able to finish readying a Ninja Pizza Power game after finding the missing directions in a file kept by volunteers.

"These folks are so organized," he said.

The honk of a bicycle horn signals the end of another day's work at Toy Mission.

But Celesta Baldassari, 73, isn't finished. She loads a box of toys onto a push cart so she can take it to her Stouffer Avenue home.

"I work sometimes until 3 in the morning. I love doing it," she said.

Baldassari cleans, sorts and bags tiny beads, baby rattles and small toys like those given at fast-food restaurants.

"We call it the little stuff," she said.

Gift requests are received at P.O. Box 137, Chambersburg, Pa. 17201.

Each family's request is filled, boxed and numbered to be delivered Dec. 21.

A tractor-trailer will substitute for Santa's sleigh.

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