Sharon Decker clearly remembers the clickity-clack of the fire truck as it rolled down her street in December.
Decker said she grew up floating around in foster homes, and at Christmas time there rarely were gifts. The firefighters would leave presents for them outside the door.
“Some of the toys were missing parts, but that was OK with us,” Decker said. “At least we were getting something.”
For the past two years, Decker has held a holiday gift drive in her house in Ashe Plantation in Mint Hill, where guests can bring a small toy and a can of food as admission to see her decorated house and extensive collection of Lionel trains.
This year’s gift drive will be Dec 2., 2 -5 p.m. at 8200 Quarters Lane in Mint Hill.
The toys are given to single mothers who stay at the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope shelter over Christmas.
“As an adult, the Lord has really blessed me, and I thought, ‘I am going to give back and any child I can help, I am going to help,’” Decker said. “That has always been on my mind.”
Last year, about 200 people attended Decker’s Train Tour With Santa, some coming from as far as Winston-Salem to see the trains.
Decker has been collecting Lionel trains for about five years, and Casey, an 8-year-boy who she’s the caregiver for, operates them. The train set takes up two rooms in Decker’s house, and in the past year the model train track set up has grown from one level to six levels.
“Out Lionel trains draw a lot of people,” Decker said. The train tracks and their surroundings are mostly representative of the 1800s, she said.
The event also includes a visit from Santa Claus, who arrives on a fire truck from the Mint Hill Fire Department.
Afterward, volunteers help pack up the toys and take them to the Salvation Army. The food will be donated to the Matthews/Mint Hill Food Bank.
Decker said that small gifts, including books, are ideal because often children and parents must move around and carry their belongings with them. Any donated gifts should be for a child ages birth to 12.
“Anything will help,” Decker said. “They are so grateful and excited.”