The Santa Train always draws crowds at each of its stops

It’s crowds like this that the Santa Train’s sponsors don’t want to cause during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a modified version for the 79th annual event.

KINGSPORT — The 79th annual Santa Train event will take place Saturday, Nov. 20, Santa Train sponsors announced Wednesday.

Due to ongoing concerns about COVID-19, and considering the amount of advance time it takes to make plans, organizers said they will once again hold drive-thru distributions at four Food City locations rather than host a traditional, multi-stop running of the train.

“Planning the Santa Train takes several months, so the decision to hold our drive-thru gift event was made out of an abundance of caution in light of ongoing concerns about COVID-19,” said Bryan Tucker, vice president of corporate communications at CSX. “We look forward to continuing the tradition of giving back to the area and are pleased to spread holiday cheer and lift spirits this November.”

CSX partners with Food City, Appalachian Power, Soles4Souls and the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce to keep the Santa Train tradition going for thousands of people in Southeast Kentucky, Southwest Virginia, and Northeast Tennessee.

The 79th annual Santa Train event will mirror last year’s drive-up celebration with 5,000 holiday gift backpacks being distributed at four Food City stores located near the 110-mile rail route the train has traveled in the past. Last year hundreds of the region’s residents received backpacks filled with winter accessories and toys that were donated by First Responders Children’s Foundation.

Team Santa Train will deliver gifts to the following Food City locations, from 8 a.m. until 10 a.m. on Nov. 20:

• Shelbiana Food City No. 475, 2138 S Mayo Trail, Pikeville, Kentucky.

• Clintwood Food City No. 892, 410 Chase St., Clintwood, Virginia.

• St. Paul Food City No. 897, 16410 Wise St., St. Paul, Virginia.

• Weber City Food City No. 820, 3004 U.S. Highway 23, Weber City, Virginia.

Attendees will be directed through a line to pick up gifts from their cars to minimize physical contact.

“In 2020, we were able to see how CSX, Food City and many other community partners could come together in order to hold this special event in Appalachia, no matter the circumstances,” said Raymond Stockard, store manager of North Eastman Road Food City in Kingsport. “Everyone here at Food City is proud to be a part of this wonderful tradition, and we are thankful to play a part in helping our community celebrate the holidays.”

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