Wood carving artist creates keepsake toys for foster care children

California

The toy maker waited until his wife had fallen asleep before going back into his Shadow Hills home woodshop to continue building 100 miniature roosters for the holidays. Time and stamina are running short for Scott Cappiello, 83, since his wife was diagnosed with dementia.

He had hoped to add a small duck and bunny to the list of wooden toys he makes every year for foster care children. What’s left over, he randomly hands out to young children with their mothers as he passes them by on the street or in the supermarket aisles.

But Gladys comes first. The ducks and bunnies will have to wait another year. He only has time for the roosters.

His first wooden toy was a miniature reindeer back in the early 1980s when he was still teaching woodworking classes at Cal State University at Los Angeles.

  • Scott Cappiello, 83, is a member of the Alpha Field...

    Scott Cappiello, 83, is a member of the Alpha Field chapter of Epsilon Pi Tau, a technology honorary fraternity, which is in its 55th year making toys. Cappiello designs toys like the chicken with a movable egg in his Shadow Hills wood shop as seen on Wednesday, November 29, 2023.(Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Scott Cappiello, 83, who is in the midst of making...

    Scott Cappiello, 83, who is in the midst of making wood toys for the holidays, sits in his garage studio in his Shadow Hills home on Wednesday, November 29, 2023. Cappiello is a member of the Alpha Field chapter of Epsilon Pi Tau, a technology honorary fraternity, which is in its 55th year making toys. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Scott Cappiello, 83, is a member of the Alpha Field...

    Scott Cappiello, 83, is a member of the Alpha Field chapter of Epsilon Pi Tau, a technology honorary fraternity, which is in its 55th year making toys. Cappiello has boxed up the toy he designed in his Shadow Hills wood shop on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 for their chapter meeting where they build toys. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

He made them for the kids at Hathaway House for Children in Highland Park who were not going home for Christmas. The kids left behind, like he had been at 12 living at Hathaway House, one of his many temporary stops in the foster care system.

“I knew what they were feeling because I felt the same thing,” the toy maker said. “I had to take care of those few dozen kids. We spent hours putting the miniature reindeer together.”

He remembered his inspiration for it all — the lady who was an artist, dropping in that Christmas in 1952 to teach the kids left behind how to sketch and work with different colors.

“I kept thinking she gave up her time to come here for us. She didn’t have to do that. It really impressed me.”

Thirty years later, the toy maker was dropping by himself.

“Like any kid, if I got clothing for Christmas I’d be disappointed, but if I got one or two toys, wow!” he said.

It’s that “wow!” the toy maker seeks today — that look on children’s faces when he reaches into his pocket to hand them a miniature reindeer or rooster.

No batteries, no instructions, no warnings. Just a simple homemade toy.

He probably would have never known he had a talent for woodworking had it not been for a teacher he had for a few months when he was 10, and was told it was time to move again, pack up your clothes.

“She had a work bench and tools in her classroom for her students, but I was the only one interested in using them,” he said. “She could see I had talent and when I left she gave me those tools and told me to stick with it. I still have them.”

Cappiello belongs to Epsilon Pi Tau, an international technological fraternity. His chapter is basically old shop teachers who have embraced technology. They met this week at San Gabriel High School to assemble wooden toys they will donate and hand out randomly to children this holiday season.

“I know it sounds like a cliché,” the toy maker said, “but we all truly believe it is better to give than receive. Way better. You feel good about it. I don’t care if I get thanked, I just want to give toys away to kids.”

With that, the toy maker returns to his roosters. While Gladys sleeps, he makes little “wows!” for kids not going home this Christmas.

Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at dmccarthynews@gmail.com.

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