What started out as one family’s gesture in spreading Christmas cheer has grown into a holiday display that draws visitors from across the region as well as serves as a mission to help those in need.
TMT Farms will open its annual Christmas lights display friday night at 6 p.m. at 16658 Old River Road North. While there is no admission charge, visitors are encouraged to bring donations of nonperishable food, children’s toys or cash, all of which will be distributed to needy families in the area.
Roy and Deborah Thompson, along with their son Tyler Thompson, daughter Jennifer McCranie and their families, started out several years ago, decorating their family property on Old River Road North for Christmas. “It started out as a light thing, for Christmas spirit, but it has turned into a ministry for us,” said Roy Thompson, a Bulloch County commissioner and owner of Statesboro Floor Covering.
As the years went by, the annual event shifted from just a cool place to drive through during the holidays to a bustling, busy month-long collection effort that helps provide blessings to needy families in the Bulloch County area.
The Christmas display features thousands and thousands of lights, sculptures, and inflatables scattered among antique farm equipment, an old moonshine still, and replicas (storefronts) of some of Bulloch County’s historical businesses such as Snooky’s restaurant and a new addition, Henry’s Ladies’ Shop.
The dirt driveways that meander through the woods leading to the homes of the Thompson and McCranie families also leads visitors past a replica of an old Western town, complete with a chapel, stable, mercantile and more. The chapel and stable are real buildings (the “stable” is actually a reception hall with a kitchen) and Thompson added an Indian village with teepees last year. Life-sized fiberglass horses and cattle are new additions this year, along with a few “surprises,” he said.
The donations of nonperishable foods such as canned goods or boxes of pasta and cereals will be distributed to food banks and families in need, he said. The donations have grown to include toys for children of financially challenged families, and even monetary gifts to be used for utility bills, clothing and other needs.
“We began working on the display 14 weeks ago,” said Deborah Thompson, the excitement of the season evident in her voice as she talked about preparing for the thousands of visitors who will come view the lights.
Rainy weather delayed the preparations, but a group from Connections Church came to help set up inflatables. “We had 25 people and we fed them lunch,” she said, describing a day of fellowship and fun. “They will return to help on some nights with the food booth.” Roy Thompson said the food booth is expanded this ye to accommodate the volume, and several groups and individuals have pledged to volunteer to help collect the food as visitors pile in car after car to experience the display. “We started collecting the food five years ago, and it has mushroomed,” she said.
Hundreds of families are helped each year – families who could not afford special meals, children’s toys and who struggled to meet basic needs, she said. Food banks take a large portion of the donated food to distribute, and families the Thompsons learn about or know receive food, toys and sometimes money as well, she said.
The response is tremendous. “The only downside is, these people who are hungry at Christmas aren’t only hungry at Christmas.”
Like his wife, Roy Thompson couldn’t keep the excitement out of his voice either as he spoke about this year’s display at TMT Farms.
As a lover of all things Bulloch, Thompson enjoys collecting bits and pieces of the county’s history. The moonshine still (dysfunctional, of course) on display was found on site. His acreage is filled with old farm equipment and pieces of history, while the buildings are decorated with old horse tack and harness pieces, antique household items and more.
A few years ago he built a replica of the Snooky’s restaurant storefront, capturing a part of the community’s history in preserving the memory of the popular eatery. He is excited about the latest addition – a storefront replica of Henry’s Ladies’ Shop, where many Bulloch County women shopped long ago. “I have the original sign, too,” he said.
The display “is larger than last year,” he said, which is a comment he makes every year as the display grows. “We have other attractions. Kids will like a lot of it.”
The TMT Farms lights display will run every night through Dec. 29, he said. “When the sun goes down, the lights will come on.”
Coming from Statesboro, visitors will turn off Northside Drive (Hwy. 80) onto North Main Street, which will turn into Lakeview Road. The drive is about nine miles, then a left turn onto Old River Road North will have drivers go about 4.5 miles to 16658 Old River Road North. The address can’t be missed, as a glow of light can be seen from miles away, and the entrance to the farm is well lighted with a fence, flag pole and nativity scene.
For more information, access the TMT Farms Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TMT-Farms-Christmas-Lights-Display-304215459685088/.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.