Air Force Veteran Santa with 31,000 kids on his List

 In Veterans

Stillwater, Minnesota – Phil Lagarde is a Santa, of sorts. He’s an Air Force veteran, but his current calling has more to do with toys than the aircrew survival and protection specialist in which he once served. He creates handmade wooden toys for children who have been through a trauma.

Mr. Lagarde enrolled at Eastern Washington State College in Cheney, Washington after his stint at Fairchild AFB in Spokane. He received a Bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition. Then he went to work in the food industry. Then he went to work at International paper  and retired in 2015.

“I used to work five days and scroll-saw two days a week.Now I’m working seven days a week.” Phil Lagarde

But his true calling appears to be making toys.

According to Mary Divine at the Pioneer Press,

Lagarde, 68, started carving wooden models to show restaurant owners what he could create out of ice. “I wanted to get little statues of the ice carvings that I did, so if I went around and talked to people, I’d have something to show them — something that wouldn’t melt.”

Thirty-five years later, Lagarde spends six to seven hours a day in his basement workshop making wooden toys. He donates the toys — 1,500 thus far this year — to police officers and firefighters, who hand them out to children who have been affected by traumatic events.

“Trucks, cars, dinosaurs, knights, saber-toothed tigers, dragons, you name it,” said Lagarde. “I went to the fire station yesterday and dropped 30 toys and three fire trucks, and then I dropped 90 toys at the police station. They can carry them around in their squad cars, and if they come across a kid in a stressful situation, they can hand them one and, hopefully, it will help distract them.”

He also recently donated 122 toys to the Washington County Jail in Stillwater.

It’s something I like to do. It keeps me off the street and out of trouble. At least I’m not one of those guys sitting in a bar, drinking my lunch. You know what they say: ‘Whoever ends up with the most toys, wins.’ Phil Lagarde

Many departments across the country use toys to help ease the trauma for children who are separated from their parents for one reason or another. Our department used teddy bears. Mr. Lagarde says he has 31,000 children on his Christmas list.

And that makes him a Santa, of sorts. He may not have a sleigh or a team of reindeer, but he helps children cope with life.


All photos by  Jean Pieri at Pioneer Press

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