Santa's elves set up shop at Moffat County High School school

You better watch out, you better not shout well, you know the song. Santa Claus is coming to town.

Better than that, his elves are already here drilling, hammering and painting up a storm in Santa's Woodshop up at Moffat County High School (MCHS).

The "elves" are actually MCHS advanced woodworking students, juniors and seniors, getting into the spirit of Christmas by building rocking horses and other wooden toys for local children.

The seasonal toys workshop is the brainchild of MCHS woods teacher, Craig Conrad. He started the project about 10 years ago to encourage students to give back to the community.

"This is totally volunteer," Conrad said. "The students don't have to do this, but they set their other projects aside to make toys to give to young kids. There's no grade high enough for what they're doing here how can you give a kid a 'B' when they're donating their time like this?"

Each year, students donate the toys to the employees of a local business or organization. The toys are given to employees' children, ages two to five. This year, the three banks in Craig First National Bank of the Rockies, Community First Bank, and the Bank of Colorado were chosen. Last year, The Memorial Hospital had the pleasure.

Posters line the woods classroom in a take-off of a milk commercial, with wood shop students' faces skewed into humorous expressions surrounded by the words: "Got wood? MCHS Woodshop does!" Thanks to a donation from Mark Samuelson of Samuelson's True Value Hardware in Craig.

"He donates all the materials for Santa's project every year," Conrad said. "About $700 or $800 worth this year. We're thankful because we couldn't do this without him."

Nineteen "elves" put together about 30 wooden toys. Jessie Pennington worked on a doll crib, complete with hand-painted pink and green flowers. Cory Hixson built a rocking lion with mop hair and a rope tail. Eric Hess and David Weis sanded and planed rocking horses. Bret McMillen caulked the seams on a rocking motorcycle. Other elves were just as busy. Are they enjoying this? The glint in their eyes and the way they cradled the toys while they work tells the whole story.

"I'm proud of them, they're doing a good job," Conrad said. "It's cool, high school kids thinking about somebody besides themselves."

But the best part, the elves agreed, is "Hug An Elf Day." That's when the students hand out toys to the children.

"Can you imagine how hard it is to hug a teenage boy?" Conrad asked. "Well, there aresome girls in the class, too. But they all dress up as elves, and we have Santa's Workshop the little kids and their parents are invited, and the public. Santa is here, talking to the kids, and the 'elves' give the toys to the kids they made them for. It's kind of evolved into a special thing over the years and I have kids from all over the school asking me if they can dress up as elves on 'Hug An Elf Day.'"

K-mart donated toys to decorate the workshop on the special night. Mrs. Whitney's fourth graders from Sunset Elementary School will be there singing Christmas carols. Mrs. Claus will serve punch and cookies. Santas "elves" will get hugged. And, Conrad said, some of the children spend all evening glued to their rocking horse or lion or motorcycle. This year, Santa's Workshop will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 19 in the MCHS Woods Shop.

"The longer I stay here, the better this gets," Conrad said, smiling broadly. "I kind of want to someday hear one of my students say, 'You know what? I got one of these toys when I was a little kid.'"

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