In 1989, when Craig Conrad saw his high school woodshop students rushing to finish their projects before Christmas break, the scene reminded him of elves working at the North Pole.
The image launched an idea that has become a Moffat County High School woodshop tradition. Each year, students make and distribute toys to area children.
In its 16-year history, the project has received recognition from several national publications and is copied by other high school woodshops.
The class has sponsored "Santa's Woodshop" so long that several of Conrad's current students remember it from their childhoods.
"It's really gone full circle," Conrad said.
Senior Justin Kawcak remembers spending a December evening at the woodshop, meeting Santa Claus and snacking on cookies.
He didn't leave with a toy, and years later, he still won't. But, he's looking forward to being able to give away the rocking Hummer he's making.
"It'll be fun," he said.
Students in Conrad's junior- and senior-level woodworking classes take about two months each year to make wooden toys that range from rocking llamas to wooden airplanes children can ride.
Conrad has tried several ways of distributing the toys students make. He's settled on students giving their toys to children they know. The remaining toys are given to the children of employees at a local business.
This year, students selected car dealerships.
"We try to give back to the community members who have been giving back to the community," Conrad said.
Students will make 25 toys this year and give them away at 6 p.m. Dec. 14 at the high school woodshop. Craig resident Paula Sadvar made the elf costumes the students will wear that night.
The event is open to the community. Refreshments will be served, the high school choir will perform, Santa Claus will be there, and those who attend the event will get to take a whack at a piÃ±ata made by the high school Spanish classes.
"It's just kind of a festive night," Conrad said.
Students set aside other projects to make the toys, using wood donated by Samuelson's True Value Hardware.
"Without (Samuelson's), I don't know how we'd do this," Conrad said.
This year, a group of students decided they wanted to make rocking Hummers, something for which they had no patterns.
"This was something new, a challenge," Kawcak said. "We got to design this ourselves."
Jaime Montes, 16, is eager to see his niece's reaction when he gives her the rocking llama he made. But his motive for being one of Santa's elves isn't entirely selfless.
The students will spend the day dressed as elves Wednesday, which has been dubbed "Hug an Elf Day."
"Pretty much a lot of girls are going to be diggin' on me," he said.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or firstname.lastname@example.org.