Gift drive-thru replaces beloved Appalachian tradition “Santa Train”

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TRI-CITIES, Tenn., Va. (WJHL) — It is an Appalachian tradition: the annual Santa Train rolling through the hills of Kentucky, Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee, making a total of 14 stops along the way. The “Big man in red” tosses out gifts to crowds of hundreds of smiling children at each stop.

But for 2020, major changes had to be made to the gift distribution in light of social distancing and the discouragement of large crowds.

This year, four Food City locations served as make-shift “Santa Train stops” in Weber City, Clintwood and St. Paul, Virginia as well as Pikeville, Kentucky.

Families and excited children were able to drive through the line, staying in their cars the whole time, picking up a backpack full of toys, gifts, clothing and school supplies.

Backpacks were made up for different age groups for both boys and girls.

Organizers say even though the Santa Train does not look at all like a train this year, they hope these gifts from “Santa” help spark some holiday joy.

“The Santa Train is a big tradition in families. I know this is my 23rd year of actually doing the train. I’ve had a lot of people respond saying they are sad the Santa Train didn’t run, but they are very thankful we were actually able to do this and give back and they loved it,” said Jamie Horton, the Santa Train coordinator for Food City.

Five thousand backpacks were packed for distribution at area Food City locations participating. Any gifts leftover will be given to school districts and local non-profits for distribution.

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