Craig It started with an off-handed remark as Moffat County High School woodshop teacher Craig Conrad watched one of his classes at work more than 18 years ago.
"You guys look like a bunch of elves," he told them.
Since that day, his advanced woodshop classes have never been the same.
Every December since, Conrad has transformed his shop into a makeshift North Pole, complete with wooden toys his students have made by hand.
"We give back to people who are asked to give," Conrad said.
Another Conrad program makes possible the North Pole event, which Conrad and his students hosted Wednesday night at the high school woodshop.
Through a mass production class that sells and produces handmade items, advanced woodshop classes raise money for other programs, including Santa's Workshop.
Community members support the program by purchasing mass production projects, Conrad said.
The class returns the favor by making toys for local children.
Each year, the students select a business or organization. They then spend a month and a half making toys for the children of that business' employees.
Once the toys are finished, the class invites the children and their parents to the woodshop, which Conrad decorates like the North Pole.
Santa's Workshop comes with a price.
"A lot of people don't realize how much work goes into those things," Conrad said, referring to the wooden rocking horses, cars, motorcycles and rockets hanging from the rafters in his shop.
Samuelson True Value Hardware and Lumber donates the wood for the project - worth about $500, Conrad said.
Add in various supplies and the cost of hosting the event, and the total comes to nearly $1,000, Conrad said.
Preparing for the event also costs students time that they could be using to work on their own projects.
A shortened class schedule this year meant less time in the classroom for Conrad's students. Advanced woodshop classes would lose approximately 20 class periods during the course of a year, Conrad estimated.
He gave students the option to opt out of the project.
His students wouldn't have it, he said.
Instead, many of them finished their toys ahead of schedule.
"I was really proud of them," Conrad said.
Although the project requires students to sacrifice time, Conrad said it gives them something in return: maturity.
"It takes a lot to make toys and then give them away to someone they (may) not know," he said, adding that the practice turns students into men and women.
Being an elf has other perks.
This year was senior Colton Murray's second year making toys for the program.
"Last year, the kids were so happy when we gave them their toys," he said. "It was well worth it."
For one of Conrad's former students, the event came full circle this year.
As a high school student, Mary Dean Mayhugh enrolled in Conrad's class and made toys for local children.
"I loved it," she said. "It was a part of the school requirements, but it was also something more."
This year, two of her children will be recipients.
"I think it's great," she said. "The kids are all excited."
Bridget Manley can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207 or firstname.lastname@example.org