Jack and Helen Eskeberg, Hugh James and about six of their friends have a secret.
Every year, they make thousands of wooden toy trucks for kids in Spokane and around the world, and while it warms their hearts to bring joy to children, they have an ulterior motive:
Getting together once a week to build the toys is a total blast.
“It’s a joyful gathering,” James said.
“We even sing sometimes,” Helen Eskeberg added.
“Yep, Judy brings her boombox,” James said, referring to another truck maker. “But we don’t sing anything by the Rolling Stones.”
That’s probably because James was already in his 50s when the Stones were big.
He’s now 91, Helen Eskeberg is 82 and Jack Eskeberg is 85.
As a member of the Hoo Hoo Club, a national woodworking organization, Jack Eskeberg leads the truck-making effort year after year. He moved the operation from his house to Harbor Crest Retirement Community when he and Helen settled there two years ago.
“I brought my tools and my wife,” said Eskeberg, a former Sacajawea Middle School wood shop teacher.
The group builds 800 trucks for the Christmas Bureau, a 10-day event that distributes food vouchers, toys and books to needy families. The bureau is organized by The Spokesman-Review, Catholic Charities and Volunteers of America.
The Hoo Hoo Club makes another 2,300 trucks for Operation Christmas Child, an international outreach program.
The trucks are about the size of a Nintendo DS but considerably less high-tech. Each truck has working wooden wheels and a bed with the words “Hoo Hoo Express” burned into it.
The trucks are charming – and never will need new batteries.
Christmas Bureau volunteers give the trucks to the children who wait in a play area while their parents select gifts in the toy rooms. Organizers said the gift of a truck at the end of the kids’ visit often makes leaving the play area easier.
Eskeberg said although he’ll never see the children with the trucks, giving something handcrafted to kids who have so little “is a good feeling.”
The Christmas Fund inched closer to its $500,000 goal Wednesday thanks to $12,356 in new donations – $7,120 of which came from the Onion and Frank’s Diner restaurants. That puts this year’s total at $45,298.
Landmark Restaurants owns the four Frank’s Diner and Onion eateries, whose 180 employees voluntarily made payroll deductions throughout the year for the cause. Employee contributions totaled $3,560 and Landmark owners Ken and Christy Belisle and Larry and Jan Brown matched that amount. Another $4,100 went to other programs.
“We are so glad our families can help needy families around Spokane,” the owners wrote.
TEK Manufacturing Inc., of Spokane Valley, gave $500, as did “the Golf Chicks” at Wandermere Golf Course.
Peter and Gay Witherspoon, of Spokane, gave $400.
Spokane residents Scott and Shannon Sevigny gave $300, as did an anonymous donor who contributed in memory of Tena and John Patterson, of Osburn, Idaho, and “my husband, Bob,” of Spokane.
James M. Koppa, of Spokane, and an anonymous donor gave $250 each.
Three other anonymous donors gave $200, one in memory of the donors’ daughter Carol and another in memory of Daphne Adams, “for whom the Christmas season was her favorite time of year. She donated to the Christmas Fund for many years, and it is an honor for me to continue the tradition.”
Also giving $200 were Spokane residents John Hasstedt; Christina Marino and Phillip Jones; and Charles P. Lobdell.
St. Joseph Catholic Church, in Metaline Falls, also sent $200.
An anonymous donor gave $160.
Lane Klees, of Spokane, sent $100 and wrote, “I’m thinking of the children and spouses who are separated from their loved ones, serving our country overseas. I hope their needs will be met.”
Mead resident Frances Joachim gave $100 in memory of her husband, who died in 2002.
Betty Johnston, of Spokane Valley, gave $100 in memory of her husband, David Johnston, who donated to the fund every year. “I want to continue the tradition,” she wrote.
Jim and Denise Davies, of Spokane Valley, sent $100 and a note: “It’s a challenging year. We wish happy holidays to all!”
Also making $100 donations were Spokane residents Frances Waddell; Ray and Pat Long; and Pamela Comstock.
Mary Heinzerling, of Spokane, gave $50 and wrote, “Many thanks to all the volunteers who make this endeavor possible.”
Also giving $50 were Jane Trease, of Spokane; Nancy Hood, of Spokane Valley; and Steve, Gail and Ben Quaid, of Colbert.
Ray, Liz, Lauren and Kiley Schatz gave $46 in memory of their sister and aunt, Karen Schatz Dunning, who would have been 46 this year. “It is our hope that generous Spokane will provide all that is needed and more this year for the folks in our community,” they wrote.
Don and Joy Pentas, of Spokane, gave $40; Marilyn Irwin, of Cheney, donated $35; and sisters Thelma Ostby and Gladys Gossett, of Chattaroy, gave $30 with a note: “Remembering someone that needs a lift.”
Giving $25 donations were Spokane residents Doris Matsch; Cheri Morissey; and Don and Carolyn Van Leuven.
Robert and Marilyn Keen, of Liberty Lake, also gave $25, as did an anonymous donor in memory of Norma Carver, who recently passed away.