A cold, vacant building in Mount Airy has been transformed into a Christmas depot by a group of holiday shoppers concerned about flood victims in Alexandria, Mo.
For the last two Saturdays, the huge garage doors on Mount Airy's old Main Street firehouse have opened to cars and trucks of volunteer Santa's helpers, who have been unloading boxes of gaily wrapped gifts and groceries for families they've adopted for Christmas.
The smiles of benefactors lugging cardboard boxes brimming with packages hinted at the benefits of their generosity.
"We've always said we get too much," said a mother of grown children whose family adopted 20 people. "We'll just get less. It's been fun . . . in a tragic sort of way."
This Mount Airy resident, who asked that her name not be published, learned more about her adoptive families when she called Alexandria's postmaster to get more gift ideas. "In one of our families, a mother had been killed in a wreck just two weeks ago," she said. "Her son went to live with his grandmother, who was on my list."
This volunteer also agreed to coordinate donations to 13 families adopted by members of her church in Lisbon. "It's catching," she explained.
Project coordinator Suzanne Mead, dressed warmly for her morning mission, checked off gifts against two computer-generated lists of adopted Alexandria families.
"I've had more calls from people telling me what they've bought," Mrs. Mead said. "I think there's been a lot of enjoyment from doing this."
Single people, families, businesses, co-workers and church groups are helping in the adopt-a-family project.
At the Carroll County Bank and Trust branch in Mount Airy, the staff chose to adopt two families in lieu of drawing names for Christmas. "We signed up so we didn't get duplicate gifts," said Leslie Dennis of Mount Airy. "Everybody shopped and wrapped."
The United Methodist Men at Prospect Church adopted four families from Alexandria in addition to other local families they're helping, said president Merton Rhinecker. "I feel if we're able and they're not, it's something good we can do," he said.
Not all the gifts came in holiday wrapping.
Among the boxes being prepared by volunteers for shipping to Missouri were new shovels with long wooden handles. Mrs. Mead said these and other tools were donated by Gregg Phelps of Mount Airy Hardware. Other large cardboard boxes packed with helmets, coats and boots came from fire departments in Mount Airy and Ocean City.
Volunteers will work at the old firehouse from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow to collect the remaining gifts.
"It's been a lot of work but not all work. . . . It's been joyous," said Dorothy Gosnell, of the Mount Airy Flood Relief Committee. "We're doing all this for people who have nothing."
Mrs. Mead said gifts had been brought to the firehouse for 63 of the 201 adopted Midwestern families as of Wednesday. Other deliveries of food and undesignated gifts have been donated.
"We need the things in there so we can get the truck packed and sorted for shipment," she said.
Mrs. Mead said she is overwhelmed by the response to the Christmas project.
"There's going to be something for everyone," she said. "I knew there were good people around, but I didn't know how many and to what extent they would go to help others."
Thanks to the Mount Airy Lions Club, Santa Claus can save his sleigh for Christmas Eve and come to town on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
This cool Yule dude, dressed in his traditional red and white duds, will roar into Mount Airy beginning Monday at Santa Claus Lane. Lion Mike Vlahos has shined the chrome of his candy-apple red Classic touring cycle, which he is lending to Santa for the five-evening event.
From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, Saint Nick will chat with wide-eyed girls and boys who visit the local Lions Club's replica of his North Pole village.
The Santa Claus Lane location is new this year. The Lions decided to create their winter wonderland at the Mount Airy Carnival Grounds at Route 27 and Twin Arch Road, where dTC shelter is available at the bingo stand to protect the displays from the elements.
From the North Pole post office to Santa's Workshop, the lane will feature the sights and sounds of the fantasy village that have entertained area children for the past 16 years. A children's train ride has been added this year.
Youngsters will have the opportunity to talk to Mrs. Claus at the North Pole Telephone Booth. Cups of steaming hot chocolate will again be offered free to young and old at the lane's Swiss Chalet.
As in years past, Santa Claus Lane is offered free of charge as a gift to the community by the Mount Airy Lions. Assistance is being provided this year by the Mount Airy Area Jaycees. Any donations, which are not required, will go the Lions Club's Food Baskets for the Needy project. For more information, call (301) 829-LION.
Hearty, home-style cooking prepared at Prospect United Methodist Church will nourish busy holiday shoppers tomorrow, whether they're coming or going.
The church, on Woodville Road near Mount Airy in Frederick County, will hold its annual all-you-can-eat pancake and sausage breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Chicken platters will be offered at the church fund-raiser from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The cost is $3.75 for adults for the pancake breakfast or $4.75 for the chicken platter; $2 for children 5 to 8; and free for those 4 and under.