Holiday Train to stop in Cottage Grove tonightWhen the 14-car train swathed in Christmas lights pulls to a stop at 5:45 p.m. today, alongside West Point Douglas Road south of the 80th Street overpass for the 10th consecutive year, it will do so at what Canadian Pacific has said is one of the largest events welcoming the train in more than 150 cities along its course through the northern United States and Canada.
When Mary Slusser convinced Canadian Pacific to add south Washington County to its roster of stops along the cross-continent Holiday Train route in 2003, the Cottage Grove businesswoman and volunteer said she had little idea what the event would become.
“It was really one year at a time,” she said recently as the Holiday Train Committee put the final planning touches on the 2012 event.
When the 14-car train swathed in Christmas lights pulls to a stop at 5:45 p.m. today, alongside West Point Douglas Road south of the 80th Street overpass for the 10th consecutive year, it will do so at what Canadian Pacific has said is one of the largest events welcoming the train in more than 150 cities along its course through the northern United States and Canada.
Last year’s Cottage Grove Holiday Train stop drew more than 10,000 spectators — many waving the neon glowsticks Slusser says the Cottage Grove event has become known for — and raised $101,000 for the Friends in Need Food Shelf that serves south Washington County.
It is, Slusser said, “a tradition with a mission, because so many people have turned this Holiday Train event into a family tradition.”
It is a decade-old tradition that has done more than spread holiday cheer. For those in need, the Holiday Train is helping put food on the table.
Local fundraising for the Cottage Grove train stop now makes up roughly one-third of Friends in Need’s annual budget, its director, Michelle Rageth said, at a time when demand for its services has exploded.
“It’s a huge, huge part of our budget and we’re so grateful to this community,” Rageth said.
Now serving up to 220 families per week from its St. Paul Park food bank, Friends in Need is on pace to help feed roughly 36,000 people in 2012, she said, the same as 2011; in 2009, 20,000 people were served by the food shelf.
Holiday Train fundraising has helped Friends in Need keep pace, Rageth said, and allows it to purchase food through Second Harvest Heartland at prices far cheaper than the average person could at a supermarket to then donate.
“It’s really very rewarding,” Slusser said.
Despite smashing through the $100,000 fundraising barrier a year ago, Slusser said the Holiday Train Committee’s goal this year remains a relatively modest $70,000. The committee had nearly reached that goal already as of Monday, she said, “but I hope that doesn’t deter people from donating.”
Traditionally a weekend event, Slusser said she doesn’t believe this year’s Tuesday stop will diminish the excitement — or the crowds — that attend to see the light festooned train and musical entertainment that, this year, includes local Elvis impersonator Art Kistler.
“It’s an overwhelming surprise that it has grown to be as big as it has been,” Slusser said.