Statesboro’s TMT Farm collected more than 30 tons of nonperishable food during the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, ensuring the Christian Social Ministries food bank has a gracious plenty for those in need this year.
In spite of a number of rainy nights that put a damper on things, the annual Christmas lights drive-thru event drew over 40,000 cars and also collected a substantial amount of toys, pet food and cash that helped area families with unmet needs during the holiday.
Bulloch County commission Chairman Roy Thompson and wife Deborah say they could not pull it off if not for their children and grandchildren pitching in and working hard to share the family farm with tens of thousands of strangers every year. The “TMT” in TMT Farm stands for Thompson/McCranie/Thompson, for three branches of the family — Roy and Deborah, daughter Jennifer McCranie and husband Jeff, and son Tyler Thompson and wife Chrissee.
All three families, including grandchildren, live on the riverside property. There are acres and acres of woodlands and farmland, three homes and a replica Western town, surrounded by collections of classic and antique cars, tractors and farm implements. Every year the project takes 12 months to disassemble, repair and reassemble, adding new attractions each year to the acres of lights, Christmas scenery, inflatables and more.
There is no charge to drive through, but the reputation of the event has spread to other states across the nation, drawing attention to the fact that visitors are asked to donate, if they wish, canned and dry goods, money, toys or pet food. Pastor John Long with Christian Social Ministries stays busy hauling loads of donations to his food bank. Volunteers work nightly to help collect donated goods, and Jennifer McCranie operates the “TMT Elves” workshop where donated toys find their way (via Santa) to homes where children may not have otherwise had Christmas gifts. The entire family works year round to make the magic happen, Roy Thompson said.
Elves behind the scenes
Why do the Thompsons and McCranies take on such a monumental — and growing — task?
“The kids,” Jennifer McCranie said. “That is mine and Jeff’s favorite part.”
It’s not only knowing children will delight in Santa dropping off toys under their trees; she also enjoys seeing the smiles and hearing the shrieks of joy as they drive through the farm.
Seeing what the effort means to others is why the family is driven to help. Filling a last-minute Christmas Eve plea for toys, taking them to a family who had no gas money to pick them up, or seeing a single mother weep in gratitude after being given a few toys for her kids makes it all worthwhile, she said.
Her brother, Tyler, mentioned one woman to whom Jennifer gave cash “out of her own money,” not donations. The amount would be considered small to many, but its impact was monumental to that woman, he said.
“She came back in crying, saying, ‘Thank you so much.’ To see what that can do to make somebody’s day” is reason enough for the annual effort — and “hearing the kids whooping and hollering” as their parents drive past the lighted displays really brings out the Christmas spirit, he said.
Turning over the family farm to countless visitors for a month is a challenge that many do not realize, Roy Thompson said. Not all visitors respect privacy and trespass in areas not meant for the public. Some have awakened the family by rearranging front porch furniture for a photo opportunity; others climb or allow children to climb on displays. Trash and debris has been an issue as well as vandalism. This year, a woman and her child walked on a covered pool, claiming to think it was for ice skating, and the family had to limit the display to drive-thru only.
But the good always outweighs the negative, Thompson said.
Aside from the joy the attraction brings, which has led to articles in newspapers in Atlanta, Columbus and even Florida, the sheer amount of food collected to help families in need is amazing, Long said.
Over 68,000 pounds of food is stored in anticipation of feeding the hungry. Families are allowed to visit the food bank twice a month and take home up to 40 pounds of food each time, he said.
He has a mission team that helps collect, organize and distribute the donated food.
“I remember a time when we didn’t get nearly this much,” he said. “We are truly blessed to be able to assist” people facing difficult times and who are often on fixed incomes.
Above all, the blessings would not happen without the hordes of visitors, locally and from across the state — and some from as far away as Hawaii, visiting locally — bringing donations, whether it’s a can of beans or a bagful of goods, Tyler Thompson said.
“We couldn’t do any of this without people giving.”
TMT Farm has even been listed on social media among the top 10 Christmas attractions in the South, according to Roy Thompson.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.