KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — Over 100 volunteers came out to the annual Santa Train Packing Party that will deliver 15 tons of gifts to children along the route of the 81st run of the Santa Train on Saturday, Nov. 18.
Toys, food, coats, gloves, backpacks and much more were packed at the event.
Raymond Stockard, store manager at the Food City on N. Eastman Road in Kingsport said the packing party has been going on for well over 20 years.
“The party here at the Eastman Road Food City has really became a community event on its own, kind of separate from the Santa Train but for the Santa Train,” Stockard said. “You have young people here older folks here, some of which have been coming for years. It’s a tradition.”
It truly is a tradition for the Mann family. They have had a family member help with the Santa Train for over 70 years.
Ruth Mann Collins started helping with the Santa Train when she worked at a McDonald’s owned by a man named Perry Chafin.
“I had this little boy crying because they left the Santa trying without a toy,” Mann Collins said.
“He could not believe that Santa Claus would give everybody else a toy but didn’t give him anything. So he [Perry Chafin] said, ‘Go tell Ruth at McDonald’s. She’ll take care of this. Well, the next year, Perry and I got together and he donated 150 toys, cookies and drinks for all the kids at Dungannon, that’s a stop there. So that got me into really working more with the train.”
Ruth Mann Collins and her family will be at the Dungannon stop in Virginia helping hand out gifts and food to kids. Dungannon is their hometown. Many live in different states now but come back to help each year. She said they grew up waiting for the Santa Train as well.
“Several years ago, that was me by the railroad track waiting for a toy to be thrown off to me, to all of us,” Mann Collins said. “I have five brothers and five sisters, and we just feel like we are giving back, because that was us years ago waiting for a toy.”
Many beauty pageant queens also helped out at the Santa Train packing party.
“As an elegant queen, that means I’m one of the older queens,” Carolyn Howard, Elegant Miss US Regional Queen said. “I like to show the younger girls that giving back is very important. And beauty pageants are not just about a crown and a fashion a title. It’s about giving back to the community and being involved and showing that you do care.”
Howard said she enjoyed volunteering with the other queens at the packing party.
“We’ve been singing Christmas carols,” Howard said. “We’ve been dancing around acting crazy, just being our fun selves. A couple of the little queens that were here, they actually sing as their talent. They were enjoying doing that.”
The Santa Train is set to hit the rails on Saturday, Nov. 18 from Shelby, Kentucky.