Wednesday April 16, 2014

A Kamloops toy story

Terry Shupe makes the world better for children, one handcrafted toy at a time

Terry Shupe in his "Shupe Shop"

The first thing you want to do as you step into Terry Shupe’s workshop is pick up one of the beautifully-crafted wooden trucks and give it a roll.

It is early December, –15 C and sunny, and it is hard not to think of Christmas while in the warm shop surrounded by handcrafted toys. 

Every corner of the “Shupe Shop” is alive.

There are toy models, wheels and pieces about to be assembled, machines ready to cut or polish and family memorabilia alongside photos of children Shupe has never met.

They are the children the former judge has been making toys for over the years and their stories are heartbreaking.

Which is why Shupe doesn’t count the time and effort he puts into making toys.

“For many children, that toy is the only one they have.”

It’s not just the children overseas, though.

“There’s a lot of need here in Kamloops,” Shupe says. “Just yesterday, I delivered 200 toys to Christmas Amalgamated,” he says, and the golden sawdust covering shelves and photos is testament to countless hours he dedicates to making children smile.

Some describe Shupe as a real life Santa, except that he doesn’t want people to think that.

Here, giving has nothing to do with the season, because toys are made and sent out year-round.

The tough part, Shupe explains while carefully smoothing the edges of a future race car, is the delivery.

“You need a connection, a way in, otherwise you’re going in blind.”

“After the tsunami in South Asia, we were the inaugural group to Sri Lanka as the appointed mayor’s committee,” he recalls.

A Kamloops citizen who was born in Sri Lanka helped establish that connection.

“Since nine years ago, we built a village, a care facility and there is an ongoing scholarship program that has helped hundreds of students.”

Wherever volunteers go, be it Africa, the Philippines or the Middle East, Shupe tries to send toys with them.

The stories of how the toys reach the children are endearing and the photographs around the shop, like one of a Sri Lankan child gazing at the camera while playing with his truck, attest to that.

When volunteers could not find a way in, a collaboration with the Canadian Forces helped with toy delivery. In Afghanistan, when delivery during patrols got too dangerous, toys were distributed through hospitals and schools. 

In a photo dated 2009, a soldier with the Kamloops Rocky Mountain Rangers regiment where Shupe serves as honorary colonel crouches down among children who each hold a wooden toy.

The caption ends with “More shipments since.”

In 2009, Shupe put together the first literacy packets.

“It’s a sandwich bag with a pen, a notepad and a wooden car for a boy or a heart-shaped necklace for the girls,” he said.

On a table by the window, a stack of recently-crafted juniper hearts will be made into necklaces and sent to the typhoon-affected Philippines, along with with race cars and planes.

It’s Shupe’s way of making the world better for children, one handcrafted toy at a time.

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