Santa Claus made a perfect landing at Jefferson County High School in Dandridge on Saturday.
While he and the helicopter he arrived in were the star attraction, there was more to offer. Sponsored by The Avenue, a nondenominational church in Morristown, the event served as a way for Lakeway Area residents to have fun, as well as helping those less fortunate.
“This time of year can be the most difficult of moments to people,” said Justin Graham, pastor of The Avenue. “If we can bring some kind of joy to someone, and help them escape whatever situation they’re living in, we’re happy to do it - even if it is for one day.”
“This event, for most people, is fun. For others, this is their Christmas,” said Adam Noe, director of Dream Team, The Avenue’s volunteer organization which has nearly 800 members. “There are a lot of people who don’t get that experience - and that’s why we’re doing this today.”
Noe also said it took a lot of hands to make the event work.
“(The volunteers) are the ones who pulled everything off. We started planning this three months ago, but the first part of it started a year ago,” he said. “We want to make it more enjoyable every year.
“It’s a lot of work, but as long as we can bring some joy and some hope to someone, it’s worth it.”
Parking was at a premium at the school. Nearly 7,000 people attended Saturday’s event, compared to 5,000 last year.
Two years ago, the event was moved from The Avenue’s parking lot on West Andrew Johnson Highway to Jefferson County High due to space issues, and it has grown larger and larger every year.
“Jefferson County High School has been incredible for letting us come here and have this event,” Graham said.
“Every year, it’s doubled in size. It’s amazing,” said Dream Team member Jessica Noe, who also said the event began six years with 500 to 700 people in attendance.
Marcia Dennis of Talbott brought her granddaughter Brooklynn to the event. She said her family was unable to attend last year, but she wanted her granddaughter have as much fun as possible.
“She loves it. We had a bounce house for her birthday back in July,” she said. “We wanted her to interact with Santa Claus, because she was afraid of him.
“She got over her fear of Santa Claus, and even sat on his lap for the first time.”
In addition to the bounce houses and the other attractions for the children in attendance, a thrift store was on site with coats, shoes casual and dress clothes, winter hats and personal hygiene items for residents in need.
“This is my favorite part of the day,” Graham said. “Blessing families with shoes, clothing and coats - especially this time of year - is always something that makes me happy.”
“People lined up two hours before just to get to the thrift store,” Adam Noe said. “I never knew that growing up, but I have as an adult with a wife and a son.
“Fortunately, my parents were able to help, so I understand how important this is.”
Inside the high school, visitors lined up for Toy Land. Separate lines with free pizza, drinks and candy canes were offered to make getting the free toys a smooth and enjoyable experience.
“What makes it worth it is seeing the smiles on the children’s faces,” Adam Noe said. “Parents are crying tears of joy because their children are happy.”
“We want to meet the needs of the community,” said Angie Williams, a member of the Dream Team and the Pastoral Leadership Team at The Avenue. “No strings attached. We just want to spread love on them.”
Holding a yearly event like Santa on a Helicopter is about providing fun and necessary items to the needy, and through that, The Avenue wanted to spread the word of Jesus Christ.
“We do it all for the glory of Jesus Christ,” Williams said.”We have our hearts changed by the joy we bring to every one, too.”
Adam Noe said the church isn’t a building, it is everywhere where one can minister to another without pressure. He wanted those in attendance to feel both the love of Christmas and the love of Jesus Christ.
“We know the reason for the season, and we’ll do anything we can to show the love of Jesus Christ,” he said. “If people don’t go to church - or can’t go to church - we’ll bring the church to them.
“We want to tear down the walls and minister to people about Jesus Christ. This event gives us an opportunity, and it’s powerful.”