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Woodshop students raise money for St. Charles families

Among items thsold St. Charles East High School auctiwas an Adirondack chair. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media

Among the items that sold at the St. Charles East High School auction was an Adirondack chair. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 24, 2014 6:14AM

ST. CHARLES — Vinny Mugnolo stepped up to the microphone to describe the rocking horse he spent 16 weeks making by hand from walnut and cherry wood.

“It’s incredibly steady — it holds me and I weigh 195 pounds,” Mugnolo, 17, told a crowd that gathered Wednesday at St. Charles East High School for a holiday auction of items made by advanced woodshop students.

Mugnolo’s horse sold for $100 — one of his teachers bought it for his granddaughter — and the event itself overall raised $2,895 at the event this year, which will be used to buy gift cards for 60 children in 22 families.

St. Charles East High woodshop students have been auctioning off their wares during the holidays for 11 years, a practice that used to raise money to help buy presents for children at Mooseheart.

But three years ago, Principal Charlie Kyle said, staff realized there were many St. Charles families that could benefit from the fundraiser.

“We know the economy isn’t the greatest,” Kyle said.

About 16 percent of St. Charles School District students are considered low-income this year, compared to 9 percent three years ago.

Twenty-seven woodshop students from three advanced-level classes made items for the auction, ranging from a cedar Adirondack chair that fetched $350 to intricate jewelry boxes to larger furniture like a bookcase, desk and trunk.

Mugnolo, a senior, said he chose a rocking horse because he wanted to make an item that would be a good Christmas gift for a child. He said over the last three years, making projects in the high school woodshop has become a passion and he was glad he could use his talents to help other students in the district.

“Not everyone is patient enough to sit and make a project,” he said.

Kyle said the district finds families in need by consulting with school counselors and social workers and checking its list of students who are homeless or receive free lunch.

Names of families who receive gifts are kept confidential, Kyle said, and families are asked if they want to participate.

Last year, the auction raised $4,300 for children in 27 families, Kyle said.

James McCarthy, the technology education teacher who oversaw the student projects, said each student was allowed to choose what he or she would make and with what materials.

“I, of course, reel them in if they’re way out there,” he said.

McCarthy, who has been teaching at St. Charles East High for more than a decade, said how much the auction will raise is always a surprise. Sometimes family members or staffers drive up the prices, other times furniture can be bought for a steal.

The biggest sale McCarthy remembers clearly: four years ago students built a 17-foot cedar canoe that sold for $1,100.

“You never know how much a piece is going to bring,” McCarthy said.

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