In 2020, TMT Farms’ two-mile long Christmas display, with its ever growing assemblage of locally historic farm and town scenery, massive holiday inflatables and twinkling lights, raised a record 50 tons of food for area residents in need.
“People were in a giving mood this year wanting to help somebody,” said Roy Thompson, who with his wife Deborah and other family members has been growing the display since 1994.
The 2020 display was limited to drive-through visits only, unlike the walk-through displays of past years. But with nonperishable food items in cans, boxes and bags being the favorite price of admission, 100,462 pounds of food was donated from the time the holiday wonderland opened the night of Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, until it closed Dec. 27.
New, unwrapped toys for children and food and supplies for pets were also accepted, as were cash donations. The food went to Christian Social Ministry, whose CEO and director, John Long, weighed every barrel full.
He confirmed that 100,462 pounds is the new record. The previous high point, more than 72,000 pounds, was set about three years ago, Long said. During the 2019 season, the food donations had weighed in at more than 67,000 pounds.
“So you can see that there was a tremendous amount of people giving,” Thompson said. “I mean, gosh, we got almost 33,000 pounds more than we did the year before.”
Getting out of a vehicle to press the counter button was not encouraged this season. But based on the vehicle count from 2019 and the increase in donations, he estimated that about 55,000 vehicles drove through from late November through December 2020.
With usually several family members in each car, that would easily put the number of individual guest visits into the hundreds of thousands. Of course, some people visit more than once.
Roy and Deborah Thompson and their daughter and son and their spouses, Jennifer and Jeff McCranie and Tyler and Chrissee Thompson, whose last names give TMT its name, set up the displays with help from other volunteers.
This year they added five more very large Christmas trees and about 75 more “blow ups,” plus more wagons, sleighs, Santa Claus figures and reindeer.
For nearly a decade now, TMT Farms has worked with Christian Social Ministry on the food distribution.
Long, in turn, builds something for the display each year. For 2020 it was a big, wooden water tower. The wooden tank had to be lifted onto it by a crane, and when complete the tower was nearly 50 feet tall, Thompson said. Lights were then added, including a spotlight.
Some favorite features remain in place year after year, including imitations of bygone Bulloch County landmarks such as the original Snooky’s restaurant. These often feature original signs and other items donated from the real-world locations.
Vandalism and other abuses of the exhibit and grounds, perpetrated by a few visitors, have unfortunately also become a perennial part of the season. Just before Christmas 2020, someone defaced a mannequin, breaking its arms off.
But after this was publicized, the persons responsible identified themselves and made restitution, so no criminal charges were filed, Thompson said.
Over the 2017 Christmas season, an incident of vandalism by a group of young people who posted images of their destructive acts on social media resulted in what were initially felony charges against two of them. Four mannequins and a large inflatable reindeer had been damaged or destroyed.
A woman, 18 at the time of arrest, entered a first-offender guilty plea and received a five-year probated sentence. A man, 21, was sentenced to five years in prison, but Thompson signed to help secure his release after half that time.
“Probably if these people (responsible for the 2020 vandalism) would have known about that (the consequences of the 2017 incident), it might have discouraged them from doing it,” Thompson said. “But anyway, we did get it resolved.”
Christian Social Ministry gives all of the food directly to people who come to its headquarters and food pantry at 31 North Zetterower Avenue, Statesboro, during distributions held every two weeks, on alternating Mondays, from 8 a.m. until noon.
The distributions currently operate as a drive-through curbside service where recipients do not have to get out of their cars.
But someone from the household in need of food must be in the vehicle to receive it, Long said. CSM no longer allows people to pick up food bags for other families. The ministry works closely with the Bulloch County Schools and other agencies to identify families in need, and people of about five counties come to the food pantry distributions..
The demand has leveled off some since the holidays, especially after many families received their $600 per person federal relief payments, Long said. But the food items donated through TMT farms will supply Christian Social Ministry’s program through much of the year.
“It’s a huge blessing,” Long said. “It supplies 70 percent or more of our annual need, as far as nonperishable food. I don’t know how you could praise what they do enough. It means so much to us to have that food readily available to distribute to those in need.”
Toys & pet food
From 2020’s Christmas visitor donations, TMT also filled four 6-by-12-foot box trailers with donated pet food and supplies, Thompson said. Three trailer loads were delivered to the Bulloch County Animal Shelter and one to Fixing the Boro.
Volunteers also distributed five trailer loads of donated toys to more than 500 children, he said.