It’s Monday morning and boy did I have a tiring weekend! It was so worth it though, because I was privileged to ride the 68th CSX Santa Train through the Appalachian Mountains this past Saturday! You see, the Santa Train always runs the Saturday before Thanksgiving and this traditional train ride kicks off the holiday season for the families living in the Appalachian Mountains. In fact, for many of the children living with their families in these remote areas, it is their only Christmas. This year, Kids Wish Network joined forces with CSX, Food City and the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce as an official sponsor.
I felt so proud when I was helping to pass out the 5,000 bags that we packed here at our warehouse. The bags were filled with age and gender appropriate gifts that totaled a retail value of over $300,000. Passing these bags out at the 14 scheduled stops through the Appalachian Mountains was an amazing experience and seeing the faces of these children literally light up was something I will never forget. It made me realize how privileged and lucky my family and I are, as the people in the mountains have so little that they are very thankful and grateful to be receiving these gifts. They’re also absolutely joyous to be seeing Santa Claus on the back platform waving to them and throwing candy.
All year long they wait for this train and when you’re there, you can not only see the excitement, but you can feel it as well. This year there was extra excitement because both Naomi and Wynonna Judd were also aboard the train! The Judds waved and threw candy alongside Santa from the back platform, but they also got out and met with people on the ground. You see, they are originally from this area and it was great to see the complete joy they helped bring to the whole event.
As this was my second year to ride this beautiful old blue train, I knew what I had to do, but it all felt like a brand new experience all over again. The countryside is breathtaking and it helped, of course, that it was a beautiful day with the sun shining through the trees and glistening on the water. It’s a very special feeling to be involved in something like this; you truly feel like you are giving back in some small way.
If I had to pick out one special memory that I would treasure the most, it would be when I was getting back on the train at this one particular stop. There, I noticed a little boy with great big tears running down his little face, cradled in the comforting arms of his mother. I asked what was wrong and found out that he didn’t get a bag and he and his mother had gotten lost in the crowds! While his mother was talking, the train’s whistle blew, which was a signal to volunteers like myself to board quickly or get left behind, but I simply could not leave without giving this child the gift he so rightly deserved. So, with my heart in my throat, I jumped on board, grabbed a bag packed specifically for a little boy, jumped back off and ran to him. It was such a great feeling to see his tears stop falling and the delighted look on his mother’s face. When I got back on the train, we all looked out the window and saw the little boy just beaming and laughing when he opened up his gift bag and pulled out a big plush bear! With such a high amount of emotions running through us, I’m not sure if we were all laughing or crying as we looked on.
I would like to end by saying how amazing the people were who were working on this train ride, including the train staff, all the sponsors and every one of the volunteers. Everybody worked so hard and every single person was totally committed to reaching as many children as possible in the short amount of time we had at each stop. My only wish is to go back again next year!!!