Holiday Train ready, but needs toys

With the supply of free children’s Christmas toys for low-income families looking as if it could fall short of demand, Salvation Army officials hope more people will turn out with donations for Caltrain’s sixth annual Holiday Train run.

The Holiday Train, scheduled to run south through the Peninsula from San Francisco on Saturday and Sunday, will feature carolers and guests of honor Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, along with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snow Man, officials said. “It’s a great event for us and probably our largest singletoy drive of the year,” said Claire Dunmore, family services director for Salvation Army Golden State Division, which serves the Bay Area. The Salvation Army gave away about 25,000 gifts to needy kids at Christmas in San Francisco alone last year, Dunmore said.

“Believe it or not, there are a lot of shelter homes, Boys and Girls Clubs, church organizations and parents that don’t have the ability to give underprivileged kids the type of Christmas that will make their faces light up,” said 1st Sgt. James Smith, of the 23rd Marine Regiment in San Bruno. Smith is in charge of the regiment’s Toys for Tots program in the Bay Area, which handed out about 75,000 toys last year.

Salvation Army and Caltrain officials hope to top the 3,300 toys, plus 2,000 books, that were donated during the Holiday Train run a year ago. Last year’s toy donations dropped significantly from the 6,020 donated in 2004. “We need more toys,” Dunmore said. Already, two of the five San Francisco offices that take applications from families who need toys have reached capacity, she said.

Since the Holiday Train began service in 2001, stopping at a handful of Caltrain stations to celebrate the Christmas season and collect new, unwrapped toy donations, 25,000 toys have been amassed, Caltrain spokeswoman Janet McGovern said.

This year’s Holiday Train run, for the first time, will include entertainment at each of the eight stations prior to the train’s arrival. There will be singing and visits with the Clauses, plus fireworks in Redwood City and a Christmas tree lighting in San Mateo, a performance by the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra in Menlo Park and more, McGovern said.

“We’re not there to sell something,” Golden Gate Railroad Museum volunteer Ross Peterson said. “It’s an old-fashioned village Christmas.” Peterson, who plays a train conductor in a cast of characters traveling aboard the train during its run, has led the monthlong effort to decorate the train with 40,000 lights each of the past six years.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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