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Cottage Grove Holiday Train stop raises $112,000 for food shelf

Fundraising in conjunction with the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train's recent Cottage Grove stop yielded at least $112,000 for the Friends in Need Food Shelf in Cottage Grove. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente

The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train's stop in Cottage Grove marked a pair of milestones for the wildly popular holiday event last week: one decade of visits and half-a-million dollars raised.

The 10th appearance of the cross-continent holiday event in Cottage Grove on Dec. 11 helped raise $112,000 for the Friends in Need Food Shelf in St. Paul Park. That figure is a new record for the Holiday Train Committee, whose previous fundraising high was $101,000 set in 2011, lead organizer Mary Slusser said. This year's event swelled the total raised by the Holiday Train event to more $514,000 over a decade. The event has also collected 96,000 pounds of food and toiletry items since 2003.

"It is shocking when you say a half a million dollars," Slusser said of the fundraising figures. "That number sounds so astronomical. It's overwhelming because we know there have been so many people helped through this fundraiser. That's why I get excited."

Those totals will likely grow, Slusser said, with donations expected to continue rolling in through Christmas next week.

An estimated 5,000 revelers braved chilly temperatures in the teens and rush-hour congestion to welcome the brightly lit train for its hour-long stop along West Point Douglas Road last week. Slusser said the turnout was down compared to the roughly 10,000 people who showed up in 2011. She said recently that is likely due to the train's weeknight visit; in recent years, the Holiday Train has stopped in Cottage Grove during the weekend.

Still, Slusser said the visit went off without a hitch. She said people told her that the Holiday Train musical entertainment was better than in previous years, and the appearance of local Elvis impersonator Art Kistler was an added treat.

"Everything went fine," Slusser said after the event. "It was a perfect night for a winter event."

The event -- a "tradition with a mission," as Slusser called it recently -- has been called the largest event among more than 150 Holiday Train stops across southern Canada and the northern United States that run from Quebec to the west coast.

Friends in Need Director Michelle Rageth said Holiday Train fundraising now comprises roughly one-third of the operation's annual budget.