When the sirens started in the distance Monday night, Korrina Kitchens' six children crowded around the front door.
"What's happening?" someone asked.
A long line of firetrucks, police cars, ambulances and emergency vehicles pulled onto the narrow road, sirens blaring and lights flashing. They drove up one after another, end-to-end-to-end.
"What's going on?" questioned another.
"This is for y'all," mom Korrina Kitchens said slowly, with tears in her eyes. "This is what I've been excited about today."
The bikes came first -- small, pink and purple with training wheels for the youngest, full-sized for the older kids. Then volunteers carried in the boxes of toys -- four white cardboard boxes literally overflowing with teddy-bears, basketballs, toy guitars, building sets, baseball gloves.
Santa arrived next, chauffeured in a long white limousine and accompanied by a blonde elf. Santa plopped down on the couch while the kids watched with wide eyes and wide grins.
Someone counted to three, and then the kids dug in, pulling out gift after gift.
"What did you get?" a volunteer asked 5-year-old Reagan Kitchens.
"Everything," she sighed.
Then after a few minutes of hugs, tears and thank yous, the Forgotten Child Fund's Santa Train packed up and moved on -- to repeat the gift-giving chaos at the houses of nine more needy families.
"It means a lot to see my kids happy," Korrina Kitchens said. "They've been through a lot. He has four holes in his heart, my oldest child died, our roof caved in -- we've been through a lot. It's about them being happy and seeing that there is some good in all of the chaos."
Every year, the Forgotten Child Fund selects 10 needy families to visit on Christmas Eve. About 200 police officers, firefighters, emergency workers, volunteers and families joined the train this year.
"We give the children a really special Christmas," said Clay Ingle, Forgotten Child Fund spokesman.
Some groups handed out stockings full of toys and supplies to neighboring houses at each stop; others sang Christmas carols in the street. Ten-year-old Karleigh Norris has volunteered with the train since she was 6.
"It makes you realize how much you have," she said. "It makes me smile so much, and I get all happy and energetic."
While the Santa Train focuses solely on 10 families during the Christmas Eve trip, the organization delivered toys to 7,241 children this year.
"We take cash donations and do fundraisers to raise money, but probably 75 percent of the toys are donated," Ingle said. "This is the first time we've helped over 7,000 children."
The 10 families selected for the Christmas Eve delivery go through a careful application process, Forgotten Child Fund President Kelly Simmons said, including background checks and two rounds of interviews.
"You might think you have it bad until you see what these kids are going through every day," he said, adding, "It takes an army of volunteers to make this happen."
Tammy Phillips said bringing her family to the Santa Train has become a Christmas tradition.
"I wanted to bring my kids to see the less fortunate," she said. "That they're excited for socks and things that other people take for granted."
Watching her kids hug Santa and open gifts, Kitchens started to cry.
"Thank you, Jesus," she murmured.
Shelly Bradbury joined the Times Free Press as a business reporter in January 2013, after starting with the paper as a general assignment intern in July 2012. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint Hill Times. Outside the newsroom, Shelly enjoys ...