Woodworker honors late family members through toy box tribute

Posted at 8:36 AM, Dec 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-21 09:37:36-05

CENTERVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Every year before the holidays, a woodshop in Centerville creates Christmas magic.

With every cut, screw and clamp Brad Lewis adds in a little heart to turn five regular 2-by-4s into toy boxes: the stuff of holiday dreams.

"I try to make each one different that I'm donating," he said.

Inside each box, he posts two names he wants you to know.

"I missed Kristi and Carter a lot and I wanted to keep their name alive," he said. "It was tragic. And they died trying to help people."

You may remember the ice storm of February 2015. It brought the mid state to its knees for two weeks and claimed 27 lives.

On Interstate 65 in Franklin one evening, Kristi Clark and her 10-year-old son Carter saw an SUV hit black ice and flip.

When they stopped to help, a semi crashed into them, killing them both.

The unthinkable tragedy left a family including Lewis, a father and grandfather, in pieces.

"You sit around second guessing yourself sometimes thinking 'when did I tell her I loved them last? I don't remember,'" he said.

It took a while for Lewis to build his life back together.

"This helps right here," he said while working in his wood shop.

His wood shop therapy eventually inspired a mission.

"I had this talent to make these toy boxes and I knew it would help other children," he said.

He's now donated more than 200 toy boxes to groups like the Franklin Police Department, to be filled and distributed to families in need during the holiday season.

When he approached Franklin Police Chief Deborah Faulkner with the idea, he thought she'd take one box. But says she had other ideas.

"I said, 'if you build them, we'll fill them,'" Faulkner said. As promised the department has filled 10-15 boxes per year for the past seven holiday seasons in honor of Kristi and Carter.

"Families who look at that (memorial plate) realize the significance of these toy boxes," Faulkner said. "It is Christmas but it is also a legacy."

She hopes the craftsmanship of the boxes inspires children to hold onto them as a keepsake as they grow older and start families of their own.

Lewis says it's a small gesture.

"I can't save the world with toy boxes," he laughed.

But with help from his girlfriend Gale in the wood shop and this new community of helpers, he's found more comfort and joy than he expected.

"That’s what it is for me," he said. "Therapy and doing good and other people helping. Maybe it'll inspire somebody to do something they're good at and help other families."

Lewis says he hopes to expand across Middle Tennessee to more cities in the future.