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article imageOp-Ed: Holiday Train is back on track collecting toys for those in need Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Nov 9, 2013 in Health
San Bruno - In our busy commuter day of going back and forth to work, SamTrans and Caltrains want to remind people that the holiday season is fast approaching and with it the call to help those in need.
"The holiday season is an important one," said Larry Rowe of The Salvation Army and I take it very seriously." He is the coordinator of the toy and gift collection at the Family Service Center of the Salvation Army in San Francisco. The Salvation Army and the US Marines Toys for Tots program will be working together to collect toys and donations for families in need.
The Marines of the 23rd Regiment, Fourth Division of San Bruno is volunteering their time, joining the members of the Salvation Army during the two day event on December 7 and 8. Special holiday train will run from San Francisco to Santa Clara and back again making stops at each station.
The goal in addition to collecting toys and donations is to bring holiday cheer and the spirit of good will to the people. Traditionally, trains at holiday time symbolize the traveling people do when seeking to be with loved ones.
Caltrains and SamTrans wants to help raise awareness that while the holidays are a special time of year, many in the communities they serve will not be able to share as much in the festivities.
While some financial analysts might consider the economic Recession of 2008 as over, the impact still remains. The Salvation Army is not the only outreach that is experiencing an increase of those in need. Food Banks are also trying to reach out as much as they can.
“Now that the recession is in the rear-view mirror, many people think the
need for food has gone down, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,”
said Kathy Jackson, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank. “The reality is
more people continue to need help from the Food Bank. The numbers are
going up, not down," she said. "The recession pushed many of our neighbors into
poverty and we haven’t seen the kind of rebound in the job market that is
needed to get people back on their feet," Jackson said. "So it continues to be very hard times for the people we serve.”
Rowe agrees as he said, "when the recession hit, it got very difficult." Yet, he noted, "many people have been generous despite the tough times." Rowe also mentioned that even for a seemingly prosperous area like the Bay Area, "the cost of living is very high."
Not only is the City of San Francisco experiencing an increase in costs, areas outside the City are also impacted. as the staff from Second Harvest food bank made mention. its hard for people with low incomes to meet their basic needs. In Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, the average price for a single-family home topped $1 million. Rents are above $2,000 a month for the average apartment.
With job cuts and health care benefits dwindling, the overall infrastructure is unraveling. More and more people are turning to outreach like food banks,Goodwill and the Salvation Army for help.
Captain Ellen Oh of The Salvation Army helps with the Holiday Train toy and donation collection even...
Captain Ellen Oh of The Salvation Army helps with the Holiday Train toy and donation collection event this year on Dec. 7 and 8, 2013
Courtesy of The Salvation Army
"This time of year is near and dear to my heart," said Rowe. Yet he quickly added, "for us here at The Salvation Army, Christmas time is 365 days a year." "This is what we do, we help families, we help communities, we help people get back on their feet and rebuild their lives."
While the Holiday Train will be collecting toys. Rowe mentioned that The Salvation Army also gives food and other goods to families and to the elderly. "When a family meets with one of our case workers, The Salvation Army tries to meet more than just one need."
In addition to giving toys to kids, The Salvation Army like many other outreach agencies they work with wants to give families a holiday meal. "The most heartbreaking for me, said Rowe, is to see a mother cry at holiday time because there is no money to buy gifts or even to prepare a meal."
This is why he takes this time of year to heart and why he is thankful for the help of Caltrans and SamTrans this year.
"The Holiday Train was inaugurated in 2001, but unfortunately took a hiatus due to a lack in funding," said Christine Dunn, communications officer for SamTrans.
Graciously, in 2012, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation stepped in to help. "Last year was our first year in sponsoring the holiday train event," said Dipti Pratt, media rep, speaking on behalf of the foundation, briefly to this reporter by phone.
“The Holiday Train gives us the opportunity to come together with our friends and neighbors and give to those in need during the holiday season,” said Emmett D. Carson, Ph.D., CEO and president of SVCF.
Carson also announced formally to the press in statement, that SVCF will be extending their support of the Holiday Train through 2014 and 2015. “We are proud to be a part of this great local tradition,” he said. “The excitement and joy that the Holiday Train brings to people when it pulls into the stations is truly a gift to our local communities.”
Dunn noted that "when the train pulls into each station, people gasp with excitement and are in awe of all the lights, decorations, music and live entertainment," she said. The Holiday Train over its two day journey will make eight to nine stops. And as Rowe said, "we deliver toys to directly to families."
Last year the train event collected more than 2,000 toys. This year Rowe said The Salvation Army hopes they can collect 3,000 toys. The need continues to grow. The age group Rowe said is often over-looked is girls ages 13 to 16. "We get lots of toys for little kids and sports related toys that is great for boys. Yet for girls we don't get as much."
That is not to say that The Salvation Army and the Marines and others are not grateful. "We are always grateful and thankful for whatever donations we receive." Yet, as Rowe pointed out, it is important to remember dignity in giving. He and the staff at The Salvation Army work very hard to make the experience of families participating in their outreach as a joy and not just another hand out, so to speak.
"We try to make it feel more like a trip to the department store, just like any other family would experience during the holiday season," he said. And, Rowe reiterated, all donations go directly from the people who give to the kids and families in need.
"Our goal when we provide for families is to give a holiday complete with all the things a family will need to be together and celebrate as a family," Rowe said.
Representatives from The Salvation Army and the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program will be at every station collecting toys for local children. Despite its setback, since the inception of Holiday Train, generous Bay Area residents have brought more than 49,000 toys to Caltrain stations. People are again encouraged to help make the holidays brighter for local children by bringing a new, unwrapped toy when they visit the Holiday Train.
“I am happy that the Holiday Train will be chugging down the tracks once again, transporting the spirits of the young and young-at-heart,” said Caltrain Chair Ken Yeager. “We are proud to have the continued support of Silicon Valley Community Foundation in providing this magical experience.”
The holiday train would not be possible without the generosity of the people. You can get into the holiday spirit by donating or becoming a sponsor on the Caltrain Holiday Train website.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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