Inmates give back at the Quillayute Valley Scholarship Auction

By Christi Baron

On Wednesday, Feb. 15, Greg Banner, Olympic Corrections Center, shared the story of the OCC Toy Shop or what is now known as the “Woods Products Shop,” at the weekly meeting of the Forks Chamber of Commerce.

Banner told the group that items made by inmates at the facility go to help a large number of community events, including the Lions Club White Cane Auction, Chamber Wine and Cheese, Cherish Our Children, The Caring Place Auction, Festival of Trees, WEBPA Fish and Brew and Forever Twilight in Forks, to name a few. But that the biggest number of items and support, nearly 90 percent, goes to the annual Quillayute Valley Scholarship Auction.

The toy-making activity started in 1993 as a Toys for Tots event under the direction of OCC’s Ken Price. Next Rufus Cain supervised the activities and as the program grew, and Cain retired, Banner eventually took over and moved the shop to the maintenance shop which was bigger and where, according to Banner, participants could be better supervised.

Banner said four to five inmates work in the shop at a time and to be in the program they must be trouble free. “If you don’t follow the rules, you can’t be in the program,” Banner said, adding, “They want to come to work.”

The program started out making wooden toy trucks — Banner said kids were not into them that much but the adults loved them! So they started donating them to the Scholarship Auction where they went for big money! Since then the program also has started making smaller items, too.

“Not everyone can afford those bigger things so we try to make things everyone can bid on,” Banner said.

To get inspiration, Banner said they get suggestions from staff as well as looking on the Internet at Pinterest.

“Pinterest is a good resource for ideas,” Banner added.

He also said sometimes the inmates come to him with an idea and if he feels it is something that can be done and the inmate has the skills, he will OK the project. One inmate just completed a doll house that has hardwood floors, windows that actually work and several pieces of furniture, all created in the shop.

The shop also is environmentally friendly when it comes to paints and stains. Banner said they recently have experimented with using vinegar and other natural items as stains. “Everything we use is non-toxic.” They also rely on many places to get wood to use for projects.

“We get support from Westport Marine for some exotic woods, also the DNR and other places donate repurposed wood. The shop also recently made use of some of the maple that came from the trimming of the trees in front of the school.”

Banner also said the shop has metal cutting capabilities and a few years ago a number of that type of item was offered at the auction. But, at the current time, he does not have an inmate that is experienced in that type of activity.

Banner said a lot of the inmates have talents they just don’t know they have until they get in the shop. They start with small projects and work their way up. Banner also said he has never had anyone injured in the shop.

Banner said OCC and the inmates that participate are proud of their partnership with the community.

“After an auction or event offenders will ask how much their items went for or if the people at the event liked what they made. We are excited that we can support all of these events,” Banner added.

It was asked how the community can be supportive of the program. He responded that he always will listen to ideas for projects and the best support is the community supporting the events!

The 53rd annual Quillayute Valley Scholarship Auction is March 18-19 at the FHS Commons.