SUWANEE -- The holiday event that was originally designed to be a gift back to the community has become a staple on the calendar.
Preparations are approaching a month to go in Shadowbrok Baptist Church's Christmas in the Park event that's now in its fifth year. The program, which replaced the church's "Walk Through Bethlehem," will be Dec. 7 and 8 this year in Town Center Park. The program turns the park into a replica of Dickens Village complete with store fronts, a cookie shop, library and bakery.
While the church has previously collected food items for local food banks, the kid-oriented event this year will collect food and new or gently used coats and shoes that it will donate to those in need in and around the Suwanee area.
"Hot spot" locations around town will accept items to donate, and Shadowbrook Pastor Bobby Linkous said some businesses give percentage discounts for donations.
"We make sure it gets in hands of children in our community and surrounding communities that have needs," Linkous said.
There will be carolers in full Dickens dress and a train ride where kids can have their ticket punched like in the movie the Polar Express, Linkous said. Organizers expect about 2,000 people to attend the event, which is put on by some 300 church volunteers.
"Everybody wants to live in Mayberry, and those days are kind of gone," Linkous said. "This was our attempt for people to come out, see neighbors, have fun and enjoy Christmas. What a beautiful season Christmas is."
Also on hand will be about 10 different shops of candy, games, crafts and Christmas bingo. Area school choirs will perform along with local talent and church groups as carols will be performed every 15 to 20 minutes, Linkous said. There will also be free hot chocolate and cookies.
A post office will be available for kids to write letters to mail to Santa, and military personnel will be there to help collect letters to send overseas.
Adults will read the nativity story as children act out the scene every 20 minutes, which Linkous said may be the first time some attendees hear the Bibical Christmas story.
"It's all kid-oriented, but it does have deeper purpose," Linkous said. "It's centered on Jesus."