LUTZ — Students from area high schools are helping keep traditions alive, while learning about working with others.
Along the way, they are preparing to share a free Christmas display with hundreds of families, and help those in need.
On a recent Saturday about 20 students from Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High, Freedom High and Steinbrenner High helped members of the nonprofit Citizens for the Old Lutz School Building prepare for the 21st Annual Christmas at the Old Lutz School.
The event, beginning Thursday (Dec. 7) and running on selected nights through Dec. 26, is held in Old Lutz School House at 18819 U.S. 41, which was built in 1927 and designed by Frank A. Winn Jr. It was saved from destruction by the citizens group.
Admission is free but attendees are encouraged to donate nonperishable food items and toys for the less fortunate.
Stephanie Toledo, a vice president of the Student Ambassadors Club at Steinbrenner High School, was among those helping decorate.
"Others helped preserve history and now people from our generation are keeping it alive," Toledo said.
Suzin Carr of Citizens for the Old Lutz School Building, said it takes more than a month to decorate and set up the displays.
Decorations change each year but traditionally include electric train sets with villages and volunteers in engineer outfits, wooden soldiers, antique ornaments and angels. This year an outdoor "selfie area" with lighted figures has been added. Also Christmas card signs from groups and businesses greet visitors.
"We decorate every weekend in November with the students," Carr said. "The private train owners start in October."
The process begins by moving desks from the old school’s classrooms to storage and retrieving boxes of Christmas decor. The students and members of the Citizens assemble the displays as well as prepare and organize craft materials for children.
Tiffany Stucken, co-president of Steinbrenner’s student Ambassadors Club said, "It gets better each year as we have more ideas such as adding wallpaper (in the school hall) that looks like a chimney this year."
Local businesses, families, community organizations, churches and others contribute decorated trees — often with a theme or handmade ornaments. Those are put up by the tree sponsor by the first weekend in December. Entertainment also is featured on many nights. This year’s groups include Martinez Middle School National Junior Honor Society and Student Council on Dec. 9 and the Show on the Road of the Theatre Arts of Tampa on Dec. 19.
About 2,000 visitors attend each year and volunteers hear lots of compliments.
"They like the quiet simplicity of a small-town Christmas," Carr said. "This is really meant to be a celebration of the community."
Phyllis Hoedt, who helped save the building, said people like it because "it is free, a time to enjoy Christmas and to see old friends."
A highlight also is a Breakfast With Santa from 8:30 to 11 a.m. on Saturday (Dec. 9) when Santa and his elves visit and hear wish lists. Children’s tickets are $4 and include a doughnut, juice and craft tickets. There is no charge for adults to attend and other food items will be available for purchase.
Contact Lenora Lake at [email protected]
.IF YOU GO
Christmas at Old Lutz School
The 21st annual Christmas at the Old Lutz School, 18819 U.S. 41, will be open for viewing from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 19, 21, 22 and 26. There is no charge but donations of non-perishable food items and new toys for those less fortunate will be accepted. Breakfast with Santa from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Saturday (Dec. 9). Children’s tickets are $4 each and include a doughnut, juice and craft tickets. Additional menu items will be available for purchase. For information about the events, call (813) 310-8709 or email to [email protected]