When Sheena Christiansen grew up in North Phoenix, seeing snow meant watching it fall in movies like “Miracle on 34th Street’ or “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
That was as close to snow as she was going to get.
This year she’s expecting 20 tons of the white stuff right in the parking lot of her church, Foothills Baptist, 15450 S. 21st Street off Chandler Blvd.
That’s because Snowy Night at Foothills is returning to Ahwatukee after a year’s hiatus, and Christiansen is chairing the festive community event.
It is actually designed as a gift for the community.
You might say it’s a Miracle on 21st Street.
Beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, the three-hour event organized by church members features many activities and food designed to delight residents of any age while capturing the iconic aspects of Christmas - the gathering of family and friends, snowfall, Christmas lights sparkling in the night and bonfires blazing.
This year the committee expanded the number of food trucks to provide four well-lauded kitchens on wheels to dish up gourmet food items from flavored kettle popcorn to fancy churros, quesadillas and nachos, to cheese melts with all the trimmings.
The evening also includes crafts for children, train rides around the snow mound, a petting zoo, face painting, games and inflatable bouncy toys.
There’s plenty for the family to enjoy, and except for the food trucks, everything is free – including hot chocolate, cookies and s’mores available to toast over six, heat-shielded fire pits.
“It’s not just for the kids, it’s for adults too. I think it’s important for us to come together as a community. We’re hoping to help bring the Spirit of Christmas to everyone,” said Christiansen, a nurse practitioner at Banner Urgent Care in Gilbert and Queen Creek and mother of two sons, 5 and 6 a year-old daughter.
A friend of Christiansen’s, Nadia Harrison, said she’s delighted Snowy Night at Foothills is returning this year.
“We’ve been twice before, and it’s just such a great family event,” said Harrison who, along with husband Michael, will ferry their two children to the church lot, where the snow will be heaped into piles by Laveen’s The Ice Wagon.
“The snow is so much fun, especially for us who live in Arizona and don’t have snow. I think it’s so fantastic, and so inclusive,” said Harrison.
For Foothills Baptist Church facilities director Greg Dreas, the three-hour community event requires lots of advance preparation.
First, there’s the delivery of the 20 tons of snow. Actually, it’s ice transformed into snow when it is fed into a chipper - “similar to what tree trimming folks use,” he explained.
Over the hours, event-goers are also treated to gently falling “snow.”
“The soft snowfall effect is actually a bubble machine. The units are placed on top of light poles, when as the bubbles fall to the ground and are exposed to the light, it looks like snow falling. It’s just magical,” said Dreas.
Providing power for the holiday lights is key.
“We need lots of lights to have a Christmas feel,” said Dreas who has lived in Ahwatukee with his family since 1982. “We have over 23,000 lights on the buildings and trees, and we need electrical power to run the many entertainment areas. It is all-hands-on-deck to host a community event like this.”
Dreas and family have attended Foothills Baptist for 18 years, and he’s been facilities director of the church campus for 10. He said watching children and families celebrating the snow is more than gratifying.
“It’s always a joy to see the laughing children playing in the snow because for many, it’s their first exposure to the cold and chill it brings to their hand, and then so fun to see them warm themselves by the fire pits, and run right back to the snow,” he smiled.
“Watching families enjoying their time together is always warming to the heart, knowing the efforts of all have made it an evening of fun for all, children of all ages, which includes parents and grandparents. There is something special about throwing a snowball at a loved one, and having some thrown back at you,” Dreas laughed.
Since the Snowy Night at Foothills occurs in the church parking lot, there’s obviously no parking available.
The church has arranged for free parking and shuttle service to the event from three area school sites: Kyrene Monte Vista, 15221 S. Ray Road; Kyrene de los Cerritos Elementary, 14620 S. Desert Foothills Pkwy. and adjacent Kyrene Altadena Middle School.
Food trucks visiting Snowy Night at Foothills are some of the area’s finest: Churro Gonutz, Cactus Corn, Queso Good, and Cheese, Love and Happiness.
The church has been working to provide Snowy Nights at Foothill since April.
Their pastor, Brian McCoy, said the church has long had a connection with the community including the presentation of the “Living Christmas Tree” which was held each December for 10 years.
“Foothills Baptist has been part of the Ahwatukee community for over 30 years, and Snowy Night at Foothills is just our way of helping our friends and neighbors enjoy an opportunity to connect with one another and celebrate Christmas,” said McCoy, who came to the church in 2010 as pastor of discipleship and missions and last September accepted the call as lead pastor.
“It’s a blast,” he said, “and some work for us and we hope everyone who attends experiences the joy and meaning of Christmas.”