Drive-through Christmas provides gifts to needy children

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By Beth Herrinton-Hodge

The new location didn’t deter them. The afternoon thunderstorms didn’t keep them away. The long lines of waiting cars didn’t stop the flow of some 900 families heading to Shelby Industries on Monday night to gather their Christmas at Claudia’s gifts.


After 10 years of hosting the annual event, Christmas at Claudia’s moved from its initial location at Claudia Sanders Dinner House to the Shelby Industries facilities on McDaniels Road in Shelbyville. “We’ve stored and sorted our gifts here [at Shelby Industries] for the last few years,” said Ann Morris, a board member for Christmas at Claudia’s. “Then we’d transport everything to the restaurant for distribution. This year, Wayne [Allen] and Vivek [Sarin] opened their warehouse and helped us put together a drive-through event. It’s running much more smoothly than ever before.”

The new location didn’t dim the holiday spirit of the event. Santa and Mrs. Claus greeted guests and posed for photos as vehicles moved through to pick up gifts. Volunteers, dressed as elves, directed traffic and shuttled registration cards to the gift distributors. Holiday music played over the outdoor speakers. A light and merry spirit filled the air.

A group of parents and teens from YES Ministries in Louisville provided cookies and cider to parents as they waited for their vehicles to be filled with toys, blankets and hygiene kits for their children.

“YES stands for Youth Experiencing Service,” said a woman who identified herself as Ms. Broglia, one of the organizing parents. “We’re a group of parents of teenagers who began gathering about five years ago to plan and provide monthly service activities for our youth to be involved with. When we heard about Christmas at Claudia’s, we asked if there was any way for our kids to be involved. They asked us to bring cookies and cider and to staff the hospitality table.”

Nearly a dozen teens stood at the entrance to the drive with handmade “Merry Christmas” signs and trays of cookies, greeting guests as they waited in line.

“The new location offers a new efficiency for our toy distribution,” Morris said.

“We’re able to collect a family’s registration card, gather age-appropriate toys and gifts, and load their car in thirty-six seconds!” said Kimberly Powell, family/youth services director at Painted Stone Elementary.

The social services directors for each elementary school staffed the registration table, where they matched cards with family information and wish lists. From these lists, gift boxes were filled on the spot for each family. One volunteer checks the boxes before another loads them into each family’s car.

Grateful parents drive away without having to leave their vehicle.

There was a bit of a wait on Pearce Industrial Road as people lined up to turn onto McDaniels Road. Each family was given a recommended time-slot for picking up their gifts. The distribution line moved smoothly. But when your serving more than 900 guests, there’s bound to be a back-up.

“We’re very pleased with how it’s going this year,” Morris said. “I’m sure we’ll try to come back here again next year. We might come up with a new name, but the spirit and the gift giving will be the same.”