With five nights of lights remaining in the season for TMT Farms’ two-mile drive-thru Christmas display, visitors had donated a little over 86,000 pounds of food for people in need served by Statesboro-based charitable nonprofit Christian Social Ministries.
But CSM’s director, John Long, forecast that with favorable weather, the donations should exceed last season’s record 100,462 pounds of nonperishable food items.
“We’re going to surpass that,” Long had said Tuesday. “After these last six nights – an educated guess, an experienced guess – I’d say we’re going to be around 125,000 pounds.”
After a wet, chilly day, fewer donations arrived the next night than on other evenings. But Tuesday’s donations still boosted the season’s cumulative total from 84,339 pounds to a little over 86,000. Wednesday, he said still wouldn’t be surprised to see a final total around 120,000 pounds.
“I’m expecting a new record, because it goes until the 27th,” Long said. “Of course, Christmas will be huge, and generally the 26th will be pretty big and the 27th will be moderate, but yeah, this is the busy time.”
Meanwhile, Christian Social Ministries also receives donations almost every day from people in the community, outside of the TMT collections, he said. Schools and other organizations also held food drives approaching the holidays.
Till Monday night
The TMT Farms display, hosted by Roy and Deborah Thompson, their son and daughter and their spouses and some grandchildren with help from many volunteers, is a tradition that has been growing for more than 25 years. At 16710 Old River Road North in northern Bulloch County, it features life-size farm and town scenes, giant holiday inflatables and scores of trees covered with twinkling lights.
Operating drive-thru only this season as last, the display opened Thanksgiving night, and the last night to see it, as Long noted, will be Monday, Dec. 27. The lights turn on from dark till midnight, weather permitting. It's free to experience, but donations of nonperishable food items, new unwrapped toys or money are encouraged.
For advisories on conditions such as muddy roads, see the “TMT Farm Christmas Lights Drive-Thru” Facebook page.
The toys and cash are distributed by other groups, but the food goes to Christian Social Ministries. Long makes daily trips to collect the donated food items from TMT farms, loading literal barrelsful into an enclosed trailer behind a pickup and taking them to CSM’s warehouse at its North Zetterower Avenue headquarters, which is filling with barrels.
Rent and utilities
Long reports that the number of people seeking food from the ministry’s distributions on alternate Mondays has been roughly the same as last fall but that requests for help with rent and utility bills are approaching new highs.
“Six months ago our numbers were actually lower than they were a year prior to that, but the last three months, this last quarter, our distribution numbers have picked up a lot, and our utilities assistance has really picked up,” Long said.
He noted that this has happened after various government “handout” programs ended.
“We are assisting many residents of our county, and surrounding counties even, with utilities assistance: rent, lights, water,” Long said. “We put a minimum of $3,000 a month, and sometimes we go way beyond that, about twice that, back into this community just in utilities assistance.”
More than 100 households received food during the Monday, Dec. 20, distribution, he reported. But the CSM office will be closed all next week, to reopen after the new year has begun, with food distributions not set to resume until Jan. 10, occurring again on Mondays two weeks apart after that.
The CSM headquarters is normally open 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. But walk-in applications are not allowed. Requests for assistance are taken by appointment only, and are already scheduled well into the first weeks of 2022, he said. The phone number is 912-489-2407. If the phone is not answered, people in need should choose “Option 1” and leave a message to receive a return call during normal hours of operation, Long said.
CSM’s biggest single food distribution this year came Nov. 22, when 230 families received two bags each. One bag provided a Thanksgiving dinner, including an Ellis Meats gift card, assembled by the East Georgia Regional Hospital Auxiliary. The other bag contained regular groceries from CSM’s supply.
Donations from churches and individuals provide probably 70% of the money CSM uses for rent and utility bill assistance, Long said. The other 30% or so comes from proceeds of the organization’s two thrift stores, one on East Parrish Street and the other in College Plaza near Ollie’s Bargain Outlet.
CSM is a 501c3 nonprofit, and its website, https://christiansocialministries.org, includes links for donations.