FLORENCE — Last night was the 12th straight that Hunter Jackson settled in for a long winter's nap inside the unheated confines of a parked bus he affectionately refers to as "Santa's sleigh."
The 102.7 KISS-FM disc jockey remains in the bus parked outside Walmart Supercenter on Hough Road in an effort to fill the bus with Christmas gifts for children in local schools.
The goal of the "Stuff A Bus" endeavor is to reach 2,500 toys by Monday, Jackson said. It was at 1,581 by Wednesday evening.
"The kids are great and they're counting on us," he said.
Jackson said fellow radio personality TicTak brought the "Stuff A Bus" idea here from Detroit and this is its eighth straight year in the Shoals. It started outside Texas Roadhouse and has moved on to Walmart.
Jackson said the goal of providing toys is the same but the tone has evolved over the years.
"The object has changed from 'help the guy get off the bus' to 'fill the bus,'" he said, pointing toward the ever-growing assortment of toys that share his temporary living quarters with him.
"Santa's sleigh," Jackson said with a broad smile.
He said he is pleased with that change in tone because it places the emphasis on the fact that there are local children out there who are counting on the community's love in order to receive Christmas presents.
Next week, officials from local school systems will pick up the presents for distribution to less-fortunate students in their districts.
Jackson stretches from one row of seats to another with a suitcase between them as a bridge as his bed. During the day, he records radio breaks on his cellphone and sends them to the station. He also readily greets people who step into the bus to donate or simply to chat.
Just as he was saying that, local resident Danny Dennis stepped inside and said he and some friends were about to go inside Walmart to add gifts to the program.
"I heard you on the radio this morning and it moved me to do this, so I called some friends," Dennis explained to an obviously moved Jackson.
"What a Christmas miracle," Jackson later commented.
For Jackson, "Stuff A Bus" carries a personal meaning. When he was 14, his father, local radio personality Jim Jackson, died, which left the family struggling.
"Mom got me candy and samples for Christmas that year," he said. "Mom did as much as she could."
That's why he carries a bounce in his step, despite being stuck inside a bus in December.
"I'm happy to be in this spot and blessed to be able to do this for the kids," Jackson said.
"I just have the enthusiasm because of what I've been through. I never thought I'd play the role of Santa Claus."