The Oxford-Lafayette County Habitat for Humanity is underfunded, and the woodworkers of Oxford are trying to fix that. On Feb.11, Oxford University United Methodist Church held a charity auction and dinner, featuring original pieces made by woodworkers from the church’s congregation and the LOU community.
The event raised a little over $9,700. The money will be used to help fund a new construction project HFH plans to begin in March. The pieces available in the auction were all original and handcrafted, many of which had estimated values well above $1,000. Most of the items took weeks to produce and years of practice to perfect. The church also sold take-home meals for $10 to help support the cause.
Chris Stasny, a woodworker, member of OUUMC and a committed volunteer for HFH, donated multiple pieces to the event. One was a large cherrywood porch swing with an estimated retail value of $3,500. Stasny worked closely with his longtime friend, Harry Snead, an Oxford native and University of Mississippi alum, to make this event happen.
“Around Last year, I had heard that Harry was planning our annual fundraising event to give back to Habitat,” Stasny said. “It wasn’t until around the beginning of the year that the event really started to come together, but when it did, everyone just started throwing things in to make it happen.”
Items in the auction ranged from simple wooden ice cream scoops and game boards to lavish dressers, nightstands, and porch swings. Thirteen woodworkers contributed 69 items to the auction, many of which were extremely detailed and unique. These items received praise from community members who attended the auction. The attention to detail set the pieces apart from ones sold in chain furniture stores.
“It takes patience,” Stansy said. “I think that’s the biggest ingredient. When you become about the process rather than the finish line, everything kind of changes. Every little element begins to become important when you are trying to make a really nice piece.”
Stasny has been woodworking for about 30 years. In the beginning, many of his pieces ended up in the burn pile. However, as he began to improve his craft, he started to produce more works he was proud of.
“Some of the early pieces I made, I liked, and the ones I didn’t got burned” Stasny said. “I’m completely self-taught, and I really just try to make every piece better than the last.”
The auction also included pieces created by Dr. E. Jeff Justice, a retired orthopedic surgeon who practiced in Memphis before retiring to his Oxford home to begin woodworking full time. Dr. Justis received the Cartouche Award from the Society of American Period Furniture Makers in 2015. His work has also been featured in museums and is known among many people interested in woodwork.
Proceeds from this events will help fund a construction project that HFH plans to begin in March. The auction raised 16 percent of the total cost, of around $60,000, to construct a new affordable home in the Oxford-Lafayette area. Much of HFH’s reconstruction and restoration efforts are focused in the Brittney Woods community on the outskirts of Oxford.
“I’m really dismayed at the poverty that we have encountered,” said the President of Oxford-Lafayette HFH, Dr. Michael Gerberi.
The organization often works with people who are handicapped, retired, or veterans, many of whom are barely able to keep their lights on. Oxford lacks affordable housing options for those who are deeply impoverished, and HFH is tirelessly trying to fix this issue. Many of these households operate with a revolving door, allowing extended family and children access to shelter, daycare, or a couch to sleep on, if there is nowhere else to go.
“It’s really a sorry situation,” Dr. Gerberi said. “Some of the houses we are tasked to restore are just in pitiful condition.”
Local HFH affiliates often must function almost entirely on local donations and volunteers to accomplish and fund projects. Oxford’s small population combined with the large number of non-profits in the area makes it challenging for Oxford-Lafayette HFH to operate.
Auctions such as this one are one way people in the community can give back to the organization. HFH constantly needs volunteers and donated materials to continue rebuilding and restoring houses in the impoverished regions within Lafayette county. Even those who want to volunteer and have zero experience in building homes are encouraged to help the cause.
“It’s really amazing,” Stasny said. “You get four to five people who have barley used a hammer tapping away, and they can keep up with the most seasoned carpenters.”
The church has hosted annual events to benefit HFH and other non-profits for many years. OUUMC plans to continue hosting these philanthropic events to give back to those in need.