Santa's Sleigh: Christmas-y SUV Lights Up Vermont for Charity Toy Drive

Troy Austin's hard-to-miss SUV is advertising an effort this weekend that aims to make sure more children will have toys to open on Christmas morning

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A Vermont man is once again using an attention-getting SUV -- decked out in hundreds of Christmas lights -- to promote his family's charity toy drive.

"This community is awesome," Troy Austin said of Essex and Essex Junction's support for the upcoming event dubbed Troy's Toy Drive.

Austin is a security officer who last year, to spread some much-needed cheer during the pandemic, got the idea to use a lot of tape to wrap his Nissan crossover SUV with Christmas lights.

He joined other illuminated vehicles in holiday parades and displays, always directing attention to the toy drive -- which ended up gathering more than a thousand donated gifts for underprivileged kids from hundreds of visitors to the drive-through event.

Even Vermont's governor took notice at the time.

"His nominators said Troy is always thinking about how he can help others," Gov. Phil Scott said last December. "Troy is an example of how Vermont lights the way. So I want to thank him and all those who have donated and supported his efforts."

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This year, Austin is back and his car is even harder to miss. It now has a speaker blaring holiday music and a rooftop sign announcing the return of the toy drive.

This year's Troy's Toy Drive is set for Saturday, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Essex High School.

Nearly all of the toys collected support the Marine Corps League's Toys for Kids effort in Vermont, Austin said. Some go directly to families in need in the Essex community who are known to local service providers, he noted.

For this year's light design, Austin rigged up a generator to take some pressure off his car battery. He does still have to duck cords just to get behind the wheel, he demonstrated.

Austin's buddy, Dominic Corron, is now trying the concept out on his pickup truck.

"I was inspired by Troy, for sure," Corron said Tuesday night, showing off his decorated truck. "It's a really good thing to just spread some Christmas cheer and be able to give back to the community."

Austin said it can be an odd experience to drive his Christmas car around.

"It's kind of awkward driving it, but I get used to it," he explained. "Getting the weird looks that people do, or people pull out their cameras. I have to practice my good smiling face a lot."

Austin thanked community members in advance for their support of this weekend's toy drive.

"It's for a great cause, and I'd love to see as many people come out as possible," Austin said.

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