Matthew Gould dared to ask the question that vexes so many: What do you do with piles of leftover Lego pieces? And it led to this, what he calls the “first-stage sort.”
A dozen volunteers on a recent Saturday morning came face to face with pounds of tiny, random Lego thingies: oddly shaped bricks, tiles, plates, slopes, cones, wheels, windshields, doors, even itsy-bitsy “fire.”
All jumbled together in four big plastic tubs. Argh! The volunteers’ job was to find like pieces and collect them in smaller plastic containers and cups. Dozens of them.
Last fall, Gould, the father of three Lego-building sons and an admitted Lego geek himself, had a light-bulb moment after he heard his wife say, “Really, we’ve got too much Lego.”
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Using the family’s Lego riches, he figured, he could assemble model sets, complete and like new, and give them to needy kids.
It was a great idea but kind of complicated. The family collected its surplus Lego pieces and sorted and inventoried them. Gould used online parts lists to identify potential Lego kits and came up with 10, each with hundreds of pieces.
Through Jackson County Court Appointed Special Advocates, he gave away the kits during the holidays last year to abused and neglected children in foster care. The kits were a hit.
“I just thought, ‘here’s an opportunity,’” Gould says. “These are kids who are struggling with everything. If we can give them a Lego set to build, maybe it brings a small sense of normalcy to them, an opportunity to forget the bad stuff in their lives,” he says. “It’s a happy toy.”
Gould didn’t want to stop there. He created an organization, The Giving Brick, to provide more kits to more youngsters. He has submitted the paperwork for nonprofit status.
Surely lots of families are harboring idle Lego pieces, Gould reasoned, so he set up collection sites. This summer, one of them is at Powell Gardens.
After hearing about Gould’s efforts, Callen Zind at Powell invited The Giving Brick to take part in Nature Connects 2, the summerlong Lego sculpture exhibit opening at Powell Saturday .
Donors to The Giving Brick’s collection sites (thegivingbrick.org) will receive a two-for-one coupon for admission to Powell Gardens during the Lego exhibit, which will be up through Sept. 7.
Gould was thrilled to connect with Powell, where the Lego sculptures will include a monarch butterfly on a swamp milkweed plant, the largest in the exhibit. It’s 6 feet tall and made of 60,000 bricks.
The monarch is one of 27 sculptures created by Lego artist Sean Kenney and placed in sections of the garden that make sense for them, habitatwise. Twenty-five of the sculptures are new, and two were part of an exhibit at Powell two years ago.
“Visitors will learn things about nature through the exhibit, whether they intended to or not, which gets to the heart of our mission,” Zind says. “And they’ll have a great time doing it.”
A bald eagle, also about 6 feet tall with 42,000 bricks, is perched on a tree in a lake. A praying mantis is in the Heartland Harvest Garden. A sculpture called “Bird vs. Squirrel” will be familiar to anyone with a bird feeder.
The smallest sculpture is a 4,400-piece woodpecker. In all, the sculptures make use of more than 300,000 Lego pieces
An important message of the exhibit is the interrelationship of animal and plant life, Zind says.
When Alan Branhagen, Powell’s horticulture director, learned that a butterfly would be one of the sculptures, he asked that Kenney make it a monarch on a milkweed plant.
Powell Gardens promotes the planting of milkweed to help save the monarch. It’s the only host plant on which migratory monarchs will lay their eggs. Branhagen also asked that the praying mantis sculpture depict a native species.
Saturday and Sunday, The Giving Brick will host a Lego building station at Powell, located east of Kansas City, and visitors who bring Lego pieces to donate will be entered to win a Lego prize. Other summer Lego activities include a Paul Mesner Puppets performance on Father’s Day, June 21, a Lego brick-building challenge July 18 and a Lego robotics demonstration Aug. 22.
Gould, who works in product development for Boston Financial Data Services, is expecting a steady stream of Lego pieces to add to The Giving Brick’s stores, and he’s ready. His Roeland Park basement storage area is home to 200 square feet of shelving stacked with labeled tubs, each filled with a single type of Lego.
The 45-year-old has discovered a lot of affection for Lego across the metro area.
“Believe it or not, I have found so many people who love this tedious work,” he says. “They actually have a good time.”
One of the volunteer groups on a recent Saturday included members of Eagle Creek Church in Lee’s Summit. The six adults and six children spent hours digging through tubs of Legos.
“It’s like a dream come true,” says 16-year-old Christian Hern as he walked into a church activity room and beheld the unsorted Legos.
“Or your parents’ worst nightmare,” Gould says, laughing.
“What we need to do today is fill these buckets and cups with only one type of Lego,” he tells the group. “It’s an important part of the process.”
“We love Lego,” says volunteer Melissa Mahoney, whose fiance was working at the next table. “We’re engineers, so it’s sort of our thing.”
Gould is looking forward to more sorting parties.
“We want people to clean out their closets, look in their attics and find extra Lego they can give us,” he says. “We want to take that Lego and put it to good use.”
“Nature Connects 2”
What: Outdoor Lego exhibit featuring 27 sculptures and related activities
When: Through Sept. 7
Opening weekend: The Giving Brick, which collects and repackages used Lego pieces into kits for abused and neglected children, hosts a Lego building station from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Also the Kansas City Brick Lab Lego Users Group displays its works.
Where: Powell Gardens, 1609 N.W. U.S. 50, Kingsville, Mo.
Cost (March-October): $10 adults; $9 seniors; $4 ages 5-12. Donors to The Giving Brick will receive a two-for-one coupon for admission during the Lego exhibit.