Holiday train chugs through Austin, donates to Salvation Army

Published 7:20 am Friday, December 11, 2009

A drum and bass riff opened the performance as workers chipped away at the ice to open the doors on the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train to reveal Santa Claus.

“Ho, ho, ho. How are you all doing?” the Saint Nicholas said before starting a holiday rap.

“My suit is red, and my beard is white, and I love the love that I feel tonight,” he continued partway through his rap. “Neighbors helping their neighbors out, in times of struggle, in times of dark.”

Email newsletter signup

The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train made its first stop in Austin Thursday at the railroad crossing on Eighth Avenue Northeast at 11:15 a.m.

About 30 people came out to see the train, even with temperatures hovering at about 3 degrees with a light, brisk wind. During a time for holiday fun, neighbors helping neighbors was a key theme for the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train.

Along with holiday music, the train serves as a traveling food drive. The train collects money and food, and it raises awareness about hunger.

Some people in the crowd carried bags of canned food to donate. Maj. Marlys Anderson of the Salvation Army Food received a $1,000 check for the Salvation Army foodshelf.

“That money will help buy food for a little while,” Anderson said. “For our food pantry, we need donations throughout the entire year. Christmas is a wonderful time because people are more generous at this time, but this $1,000 will help us even into the new year.

About 700 people — about 100 more than last year — have applied for Christmas help, and Anderson said that number could still increase.

“We’re seeing a lot more families than normal,” Anderson said. “We’re seeing a lot more people come back a little more frequently than they normally do.”

During the performance, Santa and Mrs. Claus walked through the crowd taking donations in Santa’s red toy bag. The two also stopped to take pictures with children.

One car opens up into a stage, and the Holiday Train Band performed some Christmas classics like “Jingle Bells” and a few original Christmas tunes for about 25 minutes.

Becky Rector took her grandson Naryk, 2, out to see the train.

“He loves trains. Not so much Santa — he’s a little afraid of him yet,” she said.

Like Rector, Karen Hart took her son Sterling, 4, because he loves trains.

After wanting to see the train but living too far away in Iowa, Hart has gotten to see the train two years in a row.

“Last year we went to Rochester, and when we found out it was coming to Austin we were all excited,” she said.

The 1,000-foot train is decorated with Christmas lights; however, the lights weren’t lit during the day. While Hart said the lights add to the experience, she said she and Sterling were able to get closer to the train this year.

“I think the lights add a lot, but it was a little nicer here that we could get closer,” Hart said.

Hart said she hopes to see the train again in Austin next year.

The holiday train’s maiden trip in Canada partnered with the National Food sharing program in 1999. A second train joined in 2001 to travel parts of the U.S.

The holiday train program has raised $4 million and 2 million pounds of food.

Anderson said the Salvation Army still needs people to volunteer as bell ringers, and they need people to help distribute toys.