By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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The 73-year-old Sequim man has been making wooden cars out of scrap wood for about two years. Last weekend, Laing saw new photographs of his toys being distributed to children in Haiti who were displaced from their families in the catastrophic earthquake of 2010.
The expressions say it all.
“The pictures are so unbelievable,” Laing said.
“The smiles on the kids' faces are so real. I said 'What a wonderful Christmas present for me.'”
With some help from his wife, Pam, and 9-year-old grandson, Ashton, Laing assembled and packed 200 toy cars that were sent to Haitian orphanages.
Free the Children, a Toronto-based charity that works to empower impoverished youth around the world, shipped the toys at no cost.
Jason Desmul of Lake Tapps introduced his father-in-law to the charity.
“I said I can build them, but I can't afford to ship them because shipping is so expensive,” Laing said.
Free the Children distributed the first batch of handmade toys to a camp near Port-au-Prince earlier this month.
“The children were so happy and so thankful,” said Erin Barton, Free the Children Haiti country director, in an email to Desmul.
“For many, the car was the first personal toy they have ever received. You can imagine how exciting this is for them.”
More than 200,000 people died in a magnitude-7.0 earthquake that rattled the Caribbean country on Jan. 12, 2010.
Laing said he would send more toys to Haiti and to “any organization that gives to children.”
“I'm not partial in any way, shape or form,” he said, adding: “I think I've just touched the top of an iceberg.”
Laing, a retired magazine sales rep, has always had a passion for helping kids.
He's made about 600 cars, trucks and fire engines for children fighting cancer, giving blood or coming face-to-face with difficult situations.
Some of his toys are distributed to children by Clallam County sheriff's deputies and State Patrol troopers.
The toy cars, which are made in batches, are covered with two coats of non-toxic paint and four coats of polyurethane. The wheels and hubs caps are assembled separately.
“Pam painted 800 wheels for those cars that went to Haiti,” Laing said.
The couple moved from the Seattle area to Whidbey Island after Larry Laing retired 15 years ago.
They moved to Sequim about eight years ago and “fell in love” with the area, Laing said.
“The whole community has supported my endeavor in different forms,” he added.
Laing has received small discounts from Home Depot, Sherwin-Williams and other Sequim businesses.
In addition to the cars, Laing builds birdhouses and teaches a monthly crafts class at Sherwood Assisted Living, where his students are between 85 and 97 years old.
“The love and support I've gotten from the community has been wonderful,” he said.
Laing was introduced to woodworking in his teen years while working for his uncle, a cabinet maker. He honed his skills through years of experience.
“It's a passion I can't explain,” he said.
Barton, the charity director, said one of the recipients of Laing's toy cars was a baby named Regi who had been dropped off at an Haitian orphanage with his umbilical cord still attached.
“To be gifted with a toy means a great deal,” Barton said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.