So much more than dazzling lights
Canadian Pacific Holiday Train is one of Clayton County Food Shelf’s biggest donation campaigns
By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor
Adorned with thousands of lights depicting holiday designs on 14 rail cars and equipped with a stage for musical performances, the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train will make quite a sight as it stops in Marquette at the marina parking lot on Tuesday, Dec. 10, around 5:15 p.m.
But the train, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, is about much more than a dazzling light display. For the Clayton County Food Shelf, the Holiday Train is one of its biggest donation campaigns. Since 1999, the Holiday Train has raised $7.4 million and more than three million pounds of food for North American food banks. Last year, Clayton County’s stop netted the Food Shelf $7,897.40 and 4,019 pounds of food.
Food Shelf Supervisor Utoni Ruff said, on average, the Clayton County Food Shelf serves 84 people each month. That number balloons to 120 during the summer, as kids are without school meals. For Christmas, that number more than doubles, as the Food Shelf plans and purchases 300 meals.
“It’s incredibly expensive,” Ruff said. “We get grants and a small amount in the Clayton County budget, but we couldn’t survive without local support.”
At the Holiday Train’s stop, the Food Shelf will receive a $1,000 check from Canadian Pacific. All attendees are also asked to make a monetary donation or bring non-perishable food items, paper products or toiletries. Area churches, businesses and the MFL MarMac School District are already collecting items.
Ruff said the Food Shelf has a high need for protein, so the public should consider contributing items like peanut butter or canned tuna. Cereal and canned fruits are also in high demand.
Paper products and toiletries like toilet paper, hand soap, toothpaste, laundry soap and shampoo are frequently overlooked as well. Ruff said grants and food stamps cannot go toward the purchase of these items, so they are often in short supply.
“Most donations come in November and December because that’s when everyone’s thinking about it,” Ruff said, “but there is definitely a need year round.”
Ruff said people should also consider donating during the summer and fall, especially when they have excess produce like apples, tomatoes or squash.
With hunting season soon underway, venison can also be donated. Iowa has a venison donation program called Help Us Stop Hunger (HUSH) through which hunters can contact a participating locker and bring in a whole, field-dressed deer. The locker will then process the meat into two pound packages of ground meat. The Food Bank of Iowa collects that meat and distributes it to local food pantries.
According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, since the program’s inception two decades ago, Iowa hunters have donated more than 56,000 deer. Last year, hunters donated 5,281 deer, which provided 800,000 meals.
Ruff said the Clayton County Food Shelf coordinates with Edgewood Locker to get venison. Last year, she said the Food Shelf received five tons of HUSH venison for free.
“It’s irreplaceable,” she said. “We couldn’t survive without it.”
The Food Shelf also accepts other meat donations and coordinates with Edgewood Locker to make sure the meat is federally-inspected, free of charge.
While the Holiday Train offers a good opportunity to give back, it also gives visitors a chance to experience all the sights and sounds of Christmas.
The train will feature a large light display that took 30 Canadian Pacific “elves” 100 days to complete. The Claytones, Tracey Brown and Willy Porter will perform a mix of traditional and modern holiday-themed songs for roughly half an hour. Santa Claus will also make an appearance.
In Marquette, the city will open up the community center for those who would like to warm up and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies. The city will also show a video from when it won the Iowa League of Cities award for being a 2013 All-Star Community.
McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carolyn Gallagher also encourages visitors to shop and eat local by checking out the communities’ businesses both before and after the Holiday Train. Some participating businesses will remain open until 7 p.m. or later.
The Holiday Train program launched its three-week journey on Nov. 25, and its two trains will travel throughout the United States and Canada, stopping in 150 communities. Since the Holiday Train’s stop in Marquette is just one of three in Iowa this year (the others are Mason City and Charles City), Ruff said it is important for people to attend and show their support.
“We need everyone possible to come and keep the numbers up, or else they won’t keep coming back,” Ruff said.
For more information about the Holiday Train, and to see the train’s schedule, go to www.cpr.ca/en/Mobile/Pages/holiday-train.aspx.