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Viewpoint: Community can be proud of Holiday Train event

I arrived at the Holiday Train event site around 1:15 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14. The very large Canadian Pacific auto yards (aka the event site) looked pretty barren, except for the tents and stage, but I knew that within a few hours, the fenced-in area would be full of holiday-smitten families. I quickly walked to Santa’s Workshop where training for the volunteers would take place. Most of the volunteers who were scheduled to work in the tents received a very warm jacket and hat from Canadian Pacific. After a training manual was read, the volunteers went to their designated tent to get ready for the big rush of people. 

People started arriving by shuttle buses around 3:45 p.m. and gradually made their way to the stage to secure a good spot for the night. The general store was open, so I bought quite a bit of merchandise to use as gifts for Christmas. I checked out the heated staff tent where I found sandwiches, chips and pop, and several volunteers huddling inside to stay warm. I visited the two café tents which were stocked with cookies and hot cocoa. Due to the tight space, one of the cafés put large hot cocoa containers outside, which they soon discovered to be “frozen hot cocoa.” Santa’s Living Room always had a long line, as everyone wanted to visit Mr. and Mrs. Claus before the arrival of Christmas.

I had a VIP pass, but did not linger for too long inside the very large, heated tent, as I wanted to be part of this event, not just an observer. I could feel my anxiety level increase when the Claytones and Take 6 started to play, as I knew it was getting closer to the time that I had to go on stage to answer one question about the Holiday Train Committee’s fundraising events. Although I only had the opportunity to speak a few words and announce the Holiday Train’s pre-train funding dollars of $105,000, I wanted so badly to shout out, “Welcome to Cottage Grove! Isn’t this awesome?” Still feeling the euphoria of being on stage, and looking out at the thousands of people amid the giant snowflakes, Mayor Myron Bailey, Friends in Need Director Michelle Rageth and I were presented with a $25,000 check from Canadian Pacific for the Friends in Need Food Shelf.

After Michelle and I left the stage, Mayor Bailey presented the Canadian Pacific employees with a proclamation certificate from the city of Cottage Grove. Shortly after our brief stage presentation, we were escorted to a warm tent, where we (and about 15 other people) waited to meet Sheryl Crow. Within a few minutes Sheryl came into the tent, smiled, and then one by one we were able to say a few words to Sheryl, and then a photo was taken. I can’t wait to receive the photo from Canadian Pacific.

By the time Sheryl Crow came on stage, the temperature had dipped, and the wind and snow had increased, but I felt the warmth of the season of Christmas, as it was all around me. The North Pole Station was built by Canadian Pacific, but it was filled with love and the generosity of the people from our community, as well as those from outside of our community.

At the end of the evening, when the volunteers with the red buckets were gone and the thousands of people were safely back on their designated buses, I looked around, took a few photos, and recalled what a Canadian Pacific official said to me the other day: “Cottage Grove is the epitome of the Holiday Train program.” I truly have to agree with him. We get it, and we did it right. Once again, our community has a lot to be proud of.

To everyone who helped plan, organize, volunteer, sponsor or participated in the 2013 Holiday Train signature event — THANK YOU.

Mary Slusser, of Cottage Grove, leads the local Holiday Train Committee.