As dusk fell, painting the sky with smoky pastels, cars began lining up at the entrance to TMT Farms on Old River Road North, where the Thompson and McCranie families have created a magical and unique Christmas event that pleases thousands and helps hundreds in need.
Volunteers waited at the donation booth, where visitors are invited to drop off nonperishable foods, toys, pet food or cash donations on their way to the delights nestled in the woods surrounding the homes of Bulloch County Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson and his family.
As the colors faded from the sky into blackness, lighted archways lining the driveway exploded with illumination, and the cars began rolling slowly.
The stream of traffic was steady, and soon the lights of cars and trucks lined up along the highway gave evidence to the busy night ahead. Volunteers greeted each car, accepting bags of food, boxes of toys and other donations.
The food collected during the month-long TMT Farms annual drive-through lights display replenishes local food banks and blesses families struggling with financial challenges. It enables kids from these families to have toys for Christmas and helps local animal rescues and shelters with the ever-present need for pet food.
It also brings the miracle of the Christmas spirit.
That’s what I needed Tuesday night as I watched car after car drive up, some with children shrieking in anticipation of seeing the lights, others with elderly patients from area nursing homes out for a night of fun.
Life had been hitting me pretty hard lately, and I just wasn’t feeling it. I was almost ready to skip Christmas this year.
I saw lessons taught that night. Children eagerly handed over grocery bags filled with canned goods or passed a new toy into the hands of a waiting volunteer. I thought about how some children from underprivileged families might feel if they returned to school after the holidays and heard their classmates talking about what they got for Christmas when their own home had been bare of tinsel and gifts.
The knowledge that many of those kids will have Christmas gifts, thanks to the Thompson family as well as the kindness of strangers, and seeing other children being taught the importance of giving warmed my heart.
The food booth began filling quickly, and I imagined the families who would not go hungry because of it. Having known people who dined on ramen noodles and cheap hot dogs during hard times, I smiled to think of the nutritious fruits and vegetables, canned meats, pasta and other goods that would restock depleted larders.
Calls of “Merry Christmas” filled the air as people and volunteers interacted. One volunteer, named America, told the excited children they “might see Rudolph or even Santa!”
As each car passed the booth, they followed others in a winding drive past Roy and Debra Thompson’s daughter Jennifer McCranie’s house, which dramatically flashed colorful lights in synchronization with Christmas music aired over a radio channel. Cartoon inflatables gave goofy grins as people passed by thousands and thousands of lights, following the path into the year-round museum that is TMT Farms.
Everything is lined in lights: trees, buildings, church steeples collected by Roy; old farm machinery, antique cars, fiberglass animals, mannequins, wagon wheels and storefront replicas of historical Bulloch County icons such as Snooky’s restaurant, Henry’s store and the old Pavilion at the Statesboro-Bulloch County Recreation Department.
The road meandered through what appears to be an old Western town, with faux storefronts advertising saloons, a livery stable and more. The “Church in the Wildwood” sparkled. People parked in corrals and walked through the village past teepees, covered wagons and inflatable decorations of every imaginable character.
The turnaround was at the pond in front of the Thompsons’ home, gaily decorated in yet even more lights that reflected on the water. Back through the woods, past Tyler Thompson’s home (he is Roy and Debra’s son), across the railroad tracks beside the replica depot where a train whistle sounded, the trees wrapped in lights gave way to a clean, crisp new road through cotton fields and back out to Old River Road.
Any heart that didn’t catch the Christmas spirit after a tour like that is impossibly hard.
The lights are beautiful, but that isn’t the awesome part. It isn’t the visible display that is what makes the annual event so special. The sheer size of the massive exhibit is dwarfed by the size of the Thompsons’ hearts and the impact of what they do and have done for the less fortunate.
Roy will be the first to deny credit, even though he and his family start in the summer and spend months in preparation for the display. He says it is the people who give that make it special, but we all know that it takes a coordinator and someone to set an example.
As he stood with volunteers Tuesday night, he was overheard saying, “It is the sparkle in the kids’ eyes as they hang out the windows,” handing over donations, that gets him right in the heart. As car after car after car passed, he said, “We never envisioned it getting this big.” The project began more than 10 years ago.
Visitors come from other states, as well as other towns and cities in Georgia. Thompson said more than 5,000 cars came through Saturday.
People like the Thompsons, the volunteers, the bike group that brought a trailer loaded with toys and bikes and each person who brought a couple dollars, a toy or cans of food are what make Bulloch County special, and we should all have a Merry Christmas when we think of the magnitude of this holiday outreach.
TMT Farms will remain open through the rest of the month, from 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. nightly.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.