When 13,000 Afghan evacuees, about half of whom are children, moved to nearby Fort McCoy, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse faculty and staff members sprung to action. A biology professor, a lab manager and a dean all created 200 toy houses out of wood, covering them in chalkboard paint so kids could add their own windows, doors and more. “There’s just something about having a new toy,” said Kurt Grunwald, the laboratory manager in the Biology Department. Typically, donated toys “are used, and not very gently used,” he said. “We thought it would be nice if kids could have something new to call their own.”

Two of the school employees have been making and donating toys to various causes over the past 20 years. So far, they’ve made over 1,000 toys, from the wood houses to dump trucks, grasshoppers, tugboats and more. “We know that kids appreciate new and handmade toys,” Scott Cooper, a professor in the Biology Department, told the LaCrosse Tribune. “They like something more earthy comparted to plastic. And since most toys today are plastic, they probably don’t have many of those.”

The university has been working to welcome Afghan evacuees through other efforts, too, such as partnering with nearby Viterbo University and Western Technical College to offer educational programming about Afghan culture and people, holding a toy drive, donating books and more.

Learn more about these community engagement efforts here and here.