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Placer High students are Santa’s helpers for Auburn Christmas Basket Program

Woodshop students build cradles, toy trucks for needy children
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - The sawdust has been flying like a wintry snowfall outside Santa’s workshop at the North Pole as Placer High woodshop students ready hand-made doll cradles and toy trucks for distribution by the Auburn Christmas Basket Program.

The spirit of the season got a jump-start in October as the work of cutting, sanding and assembling the gifts for 100 needy Auburn-area children started at woodshop teacher Matt Conley’s classroom.

 Speaking above the drone of the saws, senior Chris Fahey smilingly described the project he was part of as an awesome experience.

“I’m excited because we’re helping young kids,” Fahey said. “I think it’s going to help them out. For us it has been an amazing project.”

The cradle project has been undertaken by the shop class for four years. This year’s leaders have been 18-year-old senior Jesse Balfour and 17-year-old senior Jesse Bueno, who serve as foremen under the tutelage of Conley.

“It’s a lot of work,” Balfour said. “We’re making 50 cradles. But it makes us feel good to know we’re doing things for other people.”

“I just hope we do a good enough job that whoever gets a cradle appreciates it,” Bueno said.

Conley’s class took over from adult volunteers led by Phil Rightmer, who had created cradles the previous 15 years for the Christmas Basket Program. The Christmas Basket Program is in its 29th year and will be providing a two-weeks’ supply of food, fixings for a Christmas dinner and toys for children Dec. 15 at the Gold Country Fairgrounds. Some 500 families are served.

Rightmer, a Christmas Basket Program board member, said that over 19 years of making cradles, he knows that some of the earliest ones are appreciated and still in families. The work doesn’t stop at the woodshop. The Foothill Quilters Guild makes pads and blankets for the cradles. And a doll is provided with each one.

“It’s a win, win, win,” Rightmer said. “The kids get great toys that are hand-made. We get toys to hand out. And the project is a good one for the high school.”

Rightmer, the son of a woodshop teacher, said that he was happy to find a willing partner with the Auburn school to keep the cradle project going. And last year, the shop class added trucks that are made in the spring.

Conley said he welcomed the opportunity to provide a project that reaches out into the community. As a bonus, the program provides the wood and supplies to help defray expenditures.

“They provide more than enough materials and we use them for students unable to provide donation money,” Conley said.  

Applications for families to receive Christmas Basket food and gifts are available at the front desk of the Auburn Journal. Deadline to apply is Dec. 7.