Franklin's Natchez Street community celebrates an early Christmas – Tennessean

Hundreds of children and their families received free Christmas gifts at the Natchez Social community center in downtown Franklin Saturday.
Christmas music boomed along the historic Natchez Street and surrounding community where families lined the block to check in, hand over their tickets and receive presents at least 250 kids have been waiting on for weeks.
But, of course, the kids will still have to wait a week to open them.
« It’s a lot to put together, but it’s all worth it, » said Samantha Shepherd, a local resident who runs the community center through Franklin Community Church.
Shepherd was the organizing force behind the Natchez Street Christmas giveaway operation this year and is the assistant to the church’s pastor Kevin Riggs.
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With the help of Riggs, neighborhood residents, volunteers and donors, Shepherd and Franklin Community Church fundraised and shopped for the hundreds of gifts she had committed to giving out this year.
Earlier this year, Shepherd began creating a list of children and parents in the neighborhood and vicinity who she believed needed gifts, like single parents or grandparents taking care of multiple grandchildren. Then, calls were made to ask what each person’s children might want this year.
The community center also fielded calls from others who had heard about the operation and wanted in too.
Days before the giveaway, the Natchez Social community center was filled to the brim with kids’ gifts, like play-kitchens, doll houses, stuffed animals, bikes, hoverboards and winter clothing. The floor of the building was like a maze.
Passers-by stopped in each day to get a look at what looked like Santa Claus’ workshop through the large windows.
Most gifts had designated children assigned as recipients, but as of Saturday morning, donations continued to flow in and other organizations came to set up shop and provide their services like the Rush 1 motorcycle club and local youth service organization Jumbled Dreams, which brought boxes of donated winter clothing and backpacks full of supplies, respectively. 
The excess of donors, donations and volunteers allowed every child who stopped by Natchez Social Saturday to receive winter clothes, a backpack and free food. Shepherd said leftover items will be taken to donation sites meant for recent victims of devastating tornadoes in Kentucky.
On Natchez Street, a street full of daily through traffic, Riggs directed cars around the amassing lines, getting a full view of the event from where he stood.
Through their church and work running the Natchez community center, Shepherd and Riggs have seen this event snowball into the extravaganza that it was this year. Both say this was the most gifts they’ve been able to give out in the history of the event. 
« I never thought it would get this big, » Shepherd said. « I have so many people to be grateful for. »
Anika Exum is a reporter for the Tennessean covering Williamson County. Reach her at [email protected], 615-347-7313 or on Twitter @aniexum. 
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