Sanford’s Santa: Toy maker Jim Annis

Retired dance teacher Jim Annis loves to give back to those in need—especially at Christmas.
by Miranda Evon | photography by S.P. Murray

Jim Annis remembers Christmas mornings as a child with no toys underneath the Christmas tree. “I grew up in a poor family, and I never got toys on Christmas,” says Annis. “So now I make toys for children who might not get anything either.”

Some may call him a real-life Santa Claus, but to this Army veteran, he’s just a country boy who grew up in Petoskey, Michigan, and now makes wooden toys in his workshop in Sanford, North Carolina.

At 81 years old, Annis has been crafting wooden toys for children for nearly 50 years.

Around Christmastime, he devotes his time to the Salvation Army of Lee County. Whether it’s dancing with the children through their Joy for Others at Yuletide program, painting wooden trucks and cars with veterans at Veterans Administration Hospital in Fayetteville or working alongside local firefighters at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill, Annis never goes emptyhanded. He is always toting a box of toys, filled to the brim, giving them out to children or those in need.

When he’s not handing out toys, Annis spends his days in his workshop building, painting and assembling. Each year, he’ll make more than 350 toys to prepare for the most wonderful time of the year. According to his wife, Elba: “I have my home, the main house, and he has his, the workshop.”

Jim Annis’ workshop sits in the backyard of his small white home in Lee County. Beyond the blue wooden doors lies what looks like a scene from the North Pole, outfitted with everything but the elves. Saws take up almost the entirety of the room and sawdust litters every inch of the floor. Spare wood is stored behind stacks of boxes, and unfinished toys rest, half-painted, on the countertops.

This actually used to be a dance studio where Annis taught clogging for decades. A sign hangs on the wall, reading Mr. Jim’s Dance Studio. Surrounding the sign are sports medals, plaques, awards and ribbons, all for his clogging.

“God gave me my hands for crafting and my feet for dancing,” says Annis, kicking his feet and shimmying his shoulders.

Annis says that when he volunteers, he brings his energy and dance moves along with the toys.

“No one cheers up the kids as he does,” says Elba Annis. She accompanies her husband on most of his charity work, watching him dance in hospitals’ hallways or sing Christmas carols with children.

Jim Annis’ toy-giving memories always end with a smile. A favorite: one Christmas at the Salvation Army of Lee County, a family came in to pick up their holiday package. Their little girl trailed behind, barely able to walk. Annis scooped her up, taking her over to the toys. “Her eyes just lit up,” says Annis. When he told her to pick out a toy, she pointed to a doll, asking if it was for her. “I told her she could have anything she wanted,” he says. “Makes my heart full.” Annis never had children of his own. After teaching clogging for 15 years and spending most of his Christmases donating wooden toys, those children have become his own

“I don’t do this for money,” Annis says. “The biggest payment for me is the smile I get from a child after giving them a toy. You can’t put a price on that.”

If you would like to help Mr. Annis, he is always in need of wood. Contact us at for more information.