December 3, 2008
For More Information
Contact: Public Affairs Office
Normally, prison officials would frown on seeing an airplane on prison grounds, but not this time of year at Polk Correctional Institution (Polk CI), where hundreds of small wooden airplanes and other toys have been built and painted by inmates for the Marine’s Toys for Tots program distribution.
For almost a decade, inmates at Polk CI have been creating handcrafted wooden toys out of scrap wood, material remnants and paint for distribution by the Toys for Tots program. All the supplies are donated by the inmates’ families and Department of Corrections employees, with some assistance from Lowe’s and Home Depot as well.
In the past, Polk CI inmates have produced as many as 2,000 Toys for Tots at Christmastime, but this year the economy has shrunk that number to around 1,000 toys – which is still substantial considering only 15 inmates make them all.
The inmates create the toys all year long, fashioning wood into trucks, airplanes, butterflies and fishing poles, and sewing old rags into dolls that perch atop rocking horses or bears sleeping in baby cradles. All inmates have jobs, and toy making is the job of these particular inmates, who get to play elf all year long.
Officer Lawanda Smith, who oversees the inmates as they make the toys, marvels at the craftsmanship of the toys. “These are hand made, hand painted toys,” she said.
In a week or so, the prison warden will call in the Marines to pick up the toys for distribution to needy school children in the Polk-county area.
“It’s there way of giving back to the community,” said Asst. Warden for Programs Tommy Young. “They’re proud of what they’ve done.”
The Polk CI Toys for Tots program is in need of supplies, as the inmates have already begun making toys for NEXT Christmas. Donations of wood, paint brushes and paint, sketch paper, craft items, hinges (for jewelry boxes), wooden wheels, fabric and patterns for teddy bears and dolls, and good grade plywood for heirloom quality rocking chairs are all welcome. To donate items, please call Warden Ron Tadlock at (863) 984-2273.
Reporters interested in photographing toys or interviews can do so Thursday, December 4, 2008 from 9:30 am to 11:30 am. Please contact Gretl Plessinger for more information at 850-488-0420.