CORINTH — Despite his beard, Randy Elliott is not Santa Claus — but he certainly is a Christmas elf who spreads good cheer.
At a well-equipped Santa’s workshop located in rural Corinth, Elliott spends each fall making wooden cradles for little girls and wooden vehicles for little boys. A Maine Central Railroad retiree who enjoys working with wood, he brightens Christmas for children who might not otherwise receive presents.
Elliott made his first wooden cradles in 1991, after his “kids (then ages 5 and 6) had started school” and he learned that “there were a couple of kids in their classes who weren’t going to have much for Christmas.
“Almost every little girl has a doll,” so “I decided to make five [wooden] cradles,” he recalled. “I figured it would be a nice present for a little girl.”
Elliott delivered the finished cradles to Corinth Town Hall and the Kenduskeag Elementary School. Soon “I had more requests, so I made more” for a total of 19 cradles in 1991, he said.
Word spread that Santa needed more hand-made wooden cradles; the demand “has grown steadily every year,” Elliott said. “The last six or seven years, it’s been up around a hundred” cradles made in his woodshop; that number climbed to 150 cradles in 2011 and 200 cradles in 2012.
To meet the increased demand, Elliott started building cradles earlier in the fall and standardized their design some years ago so that he can cut multiple pieces and interchange them. Two hundred cradles represent 1,600 parts that must be cut and sanded and stained.
“It’s almost like an assembly line,” Elliott acknowledged, noting that this year he “started cutting [wood] back in September.”
A Mason since 1981, Elliott belongs to the Mechanics Lodge in Orono and the Seminary Hill Daylight Lodge in Bangor. This year “the Masons of Seminary Hill [lodge] have been a huge help by doing some of the sanding,” he said.
For a long time he purchased the white pine, sheetrock screws, and stain used in the cradles. Other Masons learned about Elliott’s project; this year Jim Robbins of Robbins Lumber Co. in Searsmont donated about 1,000 board feet of white pine, and Crescent Lumber in Corinth donated some 20 pounds of sheetrock screws. Elliott went through four gallons of stain by the time the last cradle was finished the first weekend in December.
For years Santa delivered the cradles unoccupied. That changed in 2010 when “the Seminary Hill Daylight Lodge Ladies and Special Ladies [Masonic widows] got wind of what I was doing,” Elliott said. “They figured they needed to supply some dolls” to accompany the cradles made for Christmas 2011.
“We either bought dolls, or people donated dolls,” said Seminary Hill’s Norma Leighton, whose husband, Gerald, is the lodge master. People “would bring the dolls to us, and we would completely refurbish them” by washing the dolls, combing their hair, and providing them with new clothes.
Dolls average 12-to-18 inches in length and appeal to different ages. “We refurbish dolls for a 1-year-old [girl] up to a doll for a 10-year-old girl,” said Leighton, a Stetson resident.
Approximately 20 women volunteer their time to refurbish the dolls or knit or crochet clothing, blankets, undergarments, hats, and sweaters for them. Some volunteers are affiliated with Seminary Hill Daylight Lodge; other women belong to such organizations as the Eastern Star chapter in Newport and the Newport Women’s Club. Some live in New Hampshire or Connecticut.
“We did 206 dolls this year,” said Leighton, a Stetson resident. Volunteers started on the 2012 dolls soon after Christmas 2011; “it takes about a year to find the dolls” and prepare them for Santa to deliver, she said.
With a goal of 200 dolls to prepare for Christmas 2013, the volunteers already have some to refurbish; “I’ve already received a box of dolls from Florida, [in] very good condition,” Leighton said.
According to Elliott, by providing dolls and the related clothing and bedding for the cradles, the women “really turned this into a special gift.
“After we started putting the dolls in the cradles, it really took off,” he said.
In 2011 a woman asked Elliott, “What are you going to do for little boys?” He thought about an appropriate toy.
“Cars, trucks: Little boys like things with wheels,” so Elliott started crafting hand-made wooden sedans, pickups, minivans, and Indy cars. Made from white pine and equipped with rotating wheels from Casey’s Wood Supply in Wiscasset, the vehicles “were a big hit” after he made 400 in 2011.
This year Elliott made 500 vehicles “for needy little boys.”
He paints the vehicles in fluorescent colors: red, green, orange, anything bright because “the younger boys like that neon colors.” As with the cradles, he created standardized designs that let him cut multiple pieces at a time.
Santa has delivered every cradle and vehicle that Elliott has made over the last 21 years. “I’ve never once had anything left over,” he quietly said.
Community and Masonic volunteers deliver the toys to local schools, the Salvation Army, Manna, and other organizations. According to Elliott, Santa delivers the toys to needy children living “from Caribou to Kittery and from Lubec to Rumford.”
The toys are appreciated — and are used. “A lot of the teachers I hear back from” tell Elliott that parents “were just thrilled to receive the gifts. The parents are pleased that someone would do this for their children.”
Since making his first wooden cradle in 1991, Elliott has insisted that his name not be mentioned when the toys are delivered. “The toys are from Santa, not from Randy,” he said.
“It’s for the kids,” he explained. “It’s what Christmas is all about. I enjoy making people happy, especially the kids.
“This is part of what being a Mason is all about … to give back” to the community, Elliott said.
People interested in providing dolls for Christmas 2013 can contact Leighton at (207) 296-2085 or firstname.lastname@example.org or drop off dolls off at the Bangor Masonic Foundation, 294 Union St., Suite 1, Bangor.