Toys for Tots helps 207 kids

B y Dan King

Many children – 207 in all – had their holidays made a little brighter Sunday when the 2015 Marine Corps Reserve Dunkin Donuts Amtrak Norfolk Southern Holiday Train rolled into Whitehall.

“It’s the people’s train,” said Gunnery Sgt. Albert Roman, Jr., director of the Capital Region Toys for Tots. “This is a community event, run by the community, for the community. It’s great to see the smile on the kids’ faces.”

The number of children was up from 162 last year, but extra support from the community helped make it successful.

“We had more kids than last year, but people were very generous,” said Jim Lafayette, the Whitehall Toys for Tots organizer. “We got more donations, so we’re in great shape. The manager at Dollar General was really great to us, too.”

Roman, Jr. said this year’s train was dedicated to “hometown heroes, police, firefighters, EMS, all first responders.”

Despite a temperature hovering around freezing, a large crowd made its way to the Whitehall Amtrak station for the arrival of the train, which actually arrived five minutes early at 10:35 a.m.
In the distance the bells tolled and Lafayette yelled to the ecstatic crowd, “I see lights. Santa’s coming.”DSC_0090

Moments later, Santa, Mrs. Claus and members of the military got off the train, gifts and treats in hand. The Clauses received a rock star-like entrance, high-fiving excited children as they walked up the ramp to the parking lot.

Roman, Jr. said that along with the joy the train brings children, it’s also great to see the size of the crowds.

“The crowds have been amazing,” he said. “This is our second stop and it’s just been great.”

While attendees were enjoying the train-related festivities in the parking lot, Santa’s elves were hard at work across the street, readying toys for the pick up later in the afternoon.

Dunkin’ Donuts, a major sponsor of the train, was dishing out hot coffee and donuts, helping many brave the weather.

When volunteers were finished in Whitehall, the Toys for Tots train made its way to Port Henry at 12:15 p.m., Port Kent at 2 p.m. and Rouses Point at 3:30 p.m.

As both Lafayette and Roman Jr. stressed, the event is all about putting smiles on kids’ faces. This year’s event certainly achieved that feat.

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