KINGSPORT — Santa Train gift distribution events are scheduled at four Food City locations on Saturday.
The drive-thru events will take the place this year — the Santa Train’s 78th — of the traditional running of the train on its 110-mile trek from Shelbiana, Kentucky, to downtown Kingsport, distributing cheer and 15 tons of gifts at 14 stops.
To best ensure the safety of the communities served by the Santa Train, its sponsors made the tough decision this year to reimagine the event amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The train typically draws dense crowds at each stop along the rails, with Santa’s helpers mingling among them to distribute gifts.
This year, gifts will be handed out at drive-up events from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at four Food City locations.
The distribution sites are:
• Shelbiana Food City #475 — 2138 S. Mayo Trail, Pikeville, Kentucky
• Clintwood Food City #892 — 410 Chase St., Clintwood, Virginia
• St. Paul Food City #897 — 16410 Wise St., St. Paul, Virginia
• Weber City Food City #820 — 3004 U.S. 23, Weber City, Virginia
Local community members will be able to pick up children’s gifts from cars to minimize physical contact. Santa’s elves at each site will wear masks while handing out gifts, and attendees are encouraged, but not required, to wear a mask while in their vehicle at the pickup locations.
Through its social media accounts, Team Santa Train shared the following pointers:
• “Please stay in your vehicle the entire time and follow the instructions from our elves on where to go.”
• “Please wear a mask when talking to one of our elves, or if you visit the store after receiving gifts.”
• “Have fun and take photos! Although this year looks a little different, we still want to see your Santa Train experience.”
Other aspects of this year’s event, including contests and special guest appearances, are available online via social media. Earlier this week, for example, video messages from some of Santa’s past special guests have debuted on the Santa Train’s Facebook page. Naomi Judd, Thompson Square, and Marty Stuart each shared comfort and cheer. The page also has been featuring “hometown heroes” from along the train’s traditional route. And photos were shared of the packing event that readied this year’s gifts for distribution.
The Santa Train is sponsored by CSX, Food City, Appalachian Power, Soles4Souls and the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce.
More information about the event and gift pickup locations will be announced on the Santa Train’s social media pages. Attendees along the route can follow @SantaTrain on Facebook for periodic updates.