By Barb Arland-Fye
My son Patrick was looking for volunteer opportunities to apply toward his high school community service requirements when we learned the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train was coming to town.
This festive freight train (actually two of them) is celebrating a 12th year of delivering goodwill and money for food banks and promoting hunger awareness on a holiday journey through the Midwest, Northeast and across Canada. Volunteers were needed to receive nonperishable food items from spectators greeting the train, serve hot chocolate and cookies to the spectators and perform other tasks as needed. Trains are a major part of our family’s life because my husband Steve is a locomotive engineer, so Patrick was more than willing to volunteer his services for the Holiday Train on Dec. 5.
We had the blessings of Deacon Bob McCoy, deacon personnel director for the Davenport Diocese, who also is part of the social ministry committee for Churches United of the Quad-City Area. The ecumenical organization which oversees 26 food pantries and three meal sites in Scott County, Iowa, and Rock Island County, Ill., is a beneficiary of this year’s Holiday Train. Deacon McCoy coordinates one of Churches United’s food pantries, The Center, which Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport operates. It serves about 200 families — or approximately 600 individuals — each year, Deacon McCoy said.
Frigid weather may have kept some would-be spectators at home, but bundled up children and adults of all ages greeted the Holiday Train, its crew and performers with a warm welcome in Davenport. Other stops in Iowa included Muscatine, Clinton, Bellevue and Dubuque. The price of admission was cheap: a nonperishable food item per person. In turn, the Holiday Train program contributed $4,500 to Churches United’s food pantry ministry and rolled open a box car that featured a stage and live musicians — including Canadian singer Kelly Prescott — singing a unique variety of Christmas songs.
Altogether, the shivering spectators donated food that filled more than 60 boxes. The Quad-City Mallards food drive contributed another 452 pounds of food. Altogether, a little more than $9,000 in cash was raised, said a bone-chilled Anne Wachal, program manager of Churches United, who couldn’t thank people enough for stepping up to the plate.
Deacon McCoy said he was present two years ago when the Holiday Train last rolled into the Quad-Cities. That event happened at night, when spectators could better appreciate the thousands of lights that decorate the rail cars. This year, the train arrived at 2 p.m. and “the problem was we couldn’t see the lights,” Deacon McCoy said.
Even so, he thinks the Holiday Train is a marvelous vehicle for promoting hunger awareness by drawing crowds together with dazzling entertainment. Locally, Sacred Heart Choir and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport were among church groups and civic organizations providing music.
Steve, Patrick and 30 or so other volunteers from churches of various denominations were eager to keep busy to avoid the cold weather’s sting. My husband and son were probably the luckiest volunteers of all — hauling empty and full canisters of hot chocolate to and from the event site. “We worked up a sweat,” Steve said. Despite the cold, Patrick said the assignment was worthwhile because it involved a train. More importantly, the Holiday Train delivered help for people who might otherwise go hungry.