published Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

'10 neediest families' in Chattanooga receive Christmas Eve treats from Santa Train

Santa Claus greets 6-year-old Dequaeveon Jackson at his home during the Forgotten Child Fund’s Santa Train on
Christmas Eve.
Santa Claus greets 6-year-old Dequaeveon Jackson at his home during the Forgotten Child Fund’s Santa Train on Christmas Eve.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.

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2013 Neediest Cases

  • photo
    Santa Claus helps Tyler Jackson, 2, left, unwrap a present while his mother Shondell Jackson and Crystal Johnson, next to Tyler, help. Johnson was on the ambulance that helped save Tyler’s life after an April fire.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
    enlarge photo

No matter what the circumstances are, no child should go without Christmas, said Capt. Tally Glover of the Chattanooga Fire Department.

He said many area residents would be surprised at the hard times some local kids face on Christmas.

"They'd be surprised at how poor people can be in this city," he said. "Even in the best of times it can be like that."

That's why local emergency personnel got together Tuesday for the annual running of the Santa Train, where toy donations are delivered to area needy children by local emergency crews.

The deliveries are the product of two months of donation collections. This year, the Forgotten Child Fund gave toys and coats to over 7,000 area children.

The Christmas Eve deliveries are taken to resident who the Forgotten Child Fund has determined are the 10 neediest families in Chattanooga.

Capt. Kelly Simmons, president of the Forgotten Child Fund, said those families receive numerous visits leading up to Christmas Eve from event organizers to make sure the right families are picked out.

He said the Forgotten Child Fund tries to help out families who do not receive any other kind of aid.

He said a lot of Forgotten Child Fund toy recipients are "up-and-up people, they're just on hard times."

Tuesday, he remembered the 1970s, when he had last gone out with the Santa Train.

"Children that didn't have anything -- that's what I remember," he said. "It's kind of heartbreaking."

It's a heartbreak fire crews didn't want to see compounded on Shondell Jackson, whose home burned in April, and whose 3-year-old son died as a result.

Tuesday night, a caravan of trucks, cars and lights pulled up to the Jacksons' East Brainerd home.

  • photo
    Emergency vehicles, part of the Santa Train, arrive at the Jackson home on Christmas Eve.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
    enlarge photo

"I did [know the Santa Train was coming], the kids didn't," Shondell Jackson said.

Earlier in the day, firefighters installed new smoke alarms at the house, but they didn't bring gifts. The four Jackson kids were a little bummed about it, too.

"They was just sitting on the couch looking said," Shondell said.

Then toys. Toys, toys, toys.

"I mean, it's ridiculous. It's too much stuff," said Shondell Jackson.

The children immediately gravitated toward their new bicycles.

"They're dragging them out the door right now, as I speak," Jackson said.

It was a nice end to a rough year.

"I find myself everyday saying, 'This has been the worst year ever for me,'" said Jackson.

But Christmas Eve was a bright spot in the family's year. In fact, it Jackson said it stands out among all the Christmases the family has spent together.

"This is the best one," said Jackson.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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