On Saturday, December 16, Sharon and Don Decker will open their Ashe Plantation home to the Mint Hill Community. From 4:30 to 7:30 pm, visitors will be able to explore three full rooms of model train layouts decorated for the holiday season. In addition to viewing model trains, visitors to the Deckers’ home will also be able to tour the home’s first floor decked out in vintage Christmas style.
The Deckers’ impressive display – one of the largest in the area – features Lionel O Scale model trains. Originally designed by inventor Joshua Lionel Cowen in the early 1900s as an eye-catching display for department stores, the first Lionel trains caught the attention of Americans who were captivated by both railroads and electricity, which was still rare in many homes.
Though few today consider Lionel trains toys, the Deckers became interested in model trains by playing with a young boy they took care of. “We’d all sit on the floor and play Thomas trains,” says Sharon. “This started from there.” The first year the Deckers showcased their model trains, they opened their home only to their neighbors, but Sharon felt called to do more. “I came up in a foster home, and I never had Christmas,” says Sharon. “As an adult, God has just blessed me so much, I just have to give back.”
“I went to Bain and asked if they had children we could help,” continues Sharon. For many years, the Deckers worked with local schools, collecting donations for children and families who needed help. This year, they are partnering with A Servant’s Heart of Mint Hill. Visitors to the Deckers’ home are asked to bring Target and Wal-Mart gift cards, which will be used to purchase food, clothing, household necessities, school supplies, and Christmas presents for local families and children in need.
“We believe every child deserves a Christmas present — especially kids living from day to day,” says Sharon, who remembers receiving “throwaway” toys for Christmas growing up in foster homes. “Your Walmart and Target gift cards will be used to provide items they need. The gift cards will go to Servant’s Heart that will reach so many.”
For Sharon, it’s important that the gift cards collected will give families in need a “hand up” instead of a “hand out.” “I believe most of us now days are only a few paychecks away from hard times ourselves,” says Sharon. “I was on assistance as a child. God showed me how to have compassion for others and never forget where I came from, and by God’s grace Don and I are able to give back. I always want to pay it forward.”
The Deckers are also expecting two special visitors on Saturday night: Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus are scheduled to arrive in style on a Mint Hill Fire Truck! “Children love to check out the trains, fire truck and give Santa their Christmas list,” says Sharon.
Anyone is welcome to visit the Deckers’ home between 4:30 and 7:30 on Saturday, December 16 (arrive at 4:30 if you want to catch Santa’s arrival). Visitors are welcome to take photos. “Unless you’ve ever seen anything like it, you wouldn’t believe it until you get here,” says Sharon. Please bring a Target or Wal-Mart gift card with the amount noted on the back for “admission.” If you can’t make it for the Train Tour but still want to help the Deckers help Mint Hill residents in need, you can leave a gift card in the green drop box at their front door or mail it to Don and Sharon Decker, 8200 Quarters Lane, Mint Hill, NC 28227.
“Some people say, ‘How can you do it?’” says Sharon. “God always blesses us. God was so gracious to me to send people my way to show his love and to give me help as a child . . . We feel this is the least we can do is open our home in order to show Christ’s love to all that come through our doors. Don and I with Kim with Servant’s Heart of Mint Hill consider it an honor to bless families having a hard time in our community that wouldn’t be able to give their children Christmas without your help.”