For Mel Hartman, a hobby turned into a passion to serve less fortunate children.
In November of 1989, Mel Hartman made wooden toy trucks for his young grandsons. Their friends liked them so much, Mel made more to give away. One of the moms put the truck on a shelf and said her son couldn’t play with it because “You don’t see toys this nice anymore.”
That wasn’t Mel’s goal and when he saw ads for Toys for Tots and other agencies wanting toys for kids, he began to think. When he saw a story about a man who made and delivered a pickup truck full of toys to local organizations, Mel made a plan. His goal was to donate two pickups full the next year.
As Mel worked and created toys, he came to the conclusion he needed help. He enlisted senior groups and other like-minded individuals and by the Christmas of 1990, they had over 1,500 toys to donate; several pickup loads. Two days after Christmas, production for 1991 began. Mel could see that something more formal was needed and soon after T.L.C. Toys, Inc. was incorporated. In October of 1991 T.L.C. Toys was granted Federal Tax-Exempt Status (501(c)3).
As the operation grew, the number of toys distributed reached thousands, and then tens of thousands per year. The number of receiving organizations went from half a dozen to over one hundred, and the number of volunteers increased to more than fifty.
Even today, most of the volunteers are retired, have talents they want to share and enjoy the company of the other volunteers. Over the years, Mel worked with Anoka County Corrections giving those with Community Service obligations an outlet for many thousands of service hours; a good deal of those volunteers were kids. Several in that program completed their service hours and became long-term volunteers with TLC and other organizations. For over a decade, inmates at St. Cloud and Faribault State Prisons worked in their facilities to do sub-assembly and finishing work on many thousands of toys. That program is no longer available, but the spirit of service is alive in TLC.
Mel’s health failed in 2018 and he passed the torch to a new group to carry on the mission of TLC Toys. Each member of the new management team had served as a volunteer under Mel’s leadership. As such, they knew much about TLC, it’s recipients, suppliers, and processes. This has allowed them to move the operation forward with the help of both old and new volunteers. Under Mel and his operation, annual production had reached 25,000 to 30,000 toys. The new organization has started over in many respects, but has already pushed annual production to more than 20,000 toys.
Thus continues the legacy begun by a retiree with a passion to serve the less fortunate.