TMT Farms, which hosts an annual Christmas lights display that doubles as a food and toy drive, was robbed Friday in broad daylight by someone who easily could be described as the Grinch.
About 100 toys that had been donated to be given to children of less fortunate circumstances were taken sometime during the day Friday "while everyone was gone," said Bulloch County Board of Commissioners Chairman-elect Roy Thompson, whose family owns TMT Farms.
Every year, people come from all over the region, including from as far away as Atlanta and South Carolina, to view the drive-through display that takes 17 weeks each year to assemble, he said. Visitors bring donations of nonperishable foods, toys and pet food, which are distributed throughout the area to those in need.
All anyone had to do was ask if they needed toys for their kids this Christmas, and the Thompsons would have given them plenty, he said. But now, about 100 toys destined for children of financially challenged families are gone - snatched from a "toy trailer" at the donation spot near the TMT Farms entrance.
Since Friday, when Thompson posted the news on Facebook, several others have shared his post and organized efforts to replace the toys, he said. Still, the theft and other recent incidents have put a damper on the season.
The TMT Farms display requires driving through the property, meandering through woods where hundreds of thousands of lights, inflatable figures, nativity scenes and more are mixed with the unique and almost museum-like experience of Thompson's old Western town, teepee village and replicas of buildings of historical importance to Bulloch County, including Snooky's Restaurant, Henry's store and most recently the "Pav-a-Lon," where many area residents spent summer days at the recreation park on Fair Road in Statesboro. Mannequins are scattered throughout the town to appear as lifelike citizens, and until this year, there have been no problems with the displays.
But earlier this month, the Thompsons found several mannequins that had their heads and limbs removed. Then, they found trash that had been left behind, including dirty diapers and beer cans. Alcohol and drugs are not allowed on the property.
Thompson said the theft and vandalism have dented his family's Christmas spirit - but it hasn't demolished it.
The show will go on, he said.
Toys donated now will be kept in a safer place, and volunteers are helping to keep watch on the property. There have already been about 19,000 cars visit, and "we haven't seen our busiest time yet," he said.
About 30,000 cars are expected to visit the display, which runs through the week after Christmas. On busy nights, visitors have waited up to two hours in traffic before reaching the display area, he said.
"What makes it still worthwhile to do are the people who do respect and enjoy it," he said.
The Thompsons ask that people be respectful, as the property is their home, he said. He has seen people wandering around after midnight, and someone reported discovering visitors smoking marijuana on his land, he said.
But on the brighter side, the generous response of people wishing to replace the stolen toys is "tremendous," he said.
People are encouraged to visit and enjoy the new "raining" lights, sleighs, the Pav-a-Lon and Memorial pool replicas - built with materials from the original Pav-a-lon - and a new manger scene, he said.
Donations are not required but are encouraged. Non-perishable foods, pet foods and toys are welcome.
Following the theft, Thompson said he spoke to the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office but did not file an official report.
"Those toys are gone. I just hope they were for children in need," he said.
However, anyone with information about the stolen toys is asked to make an anonymous call to the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office at (912) 764-8888.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.