Holiday Train returning to Alexandria
Another indication that the holiday season is upon us is coming in the form of the 20th annual Canadian Pacific's Holiday Train, which once again will be appearing in Alexandria.
The train runs through seven U.S. states and three Canadian provinces, supplying free half-hour musical performances while raising money for local food banks.
In fact, Vicki Bump, executive director of Douglas County Outreach Food Shelf, says that the money raised from the Holiday Train's appearance here is the food shelf's largest single-day fundraiser.
"We just can't thank them enough," she said.
This year the Holiday Train will stop in Alexandria at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 13, at the 8th Avenue East railroad crossing by the Hubbard Feed Mill on 8th and Nokomis. The half-hour show will begin at 11:45 a.m.
The train is also stopping in Glenwood at 10 a.m. that day, at the CP Station, 20 15th St. NE, with the show starting at 10:15 a.m. And it stops in Elbow Lake at 4:15 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, at the Main Street crossing, with the show kicking off at 4:30 p.m.
Canadian Pacific has turned its Holiday Train into an annual event, and in addition to the entertainment its central purpose is to assist food banks in each city where it stops. For instance, everything that is raised in Alexandria will remain with the county's Outreach Food Shelf.
There is no charge to attend, but those who greet the train are asked to bring a contribution to the food shelf, by donating either food or money to volunteers on the scene. Bump would prefer monetary donations because she can make them stretch further.
"I can buy more food with my money than you can with yours," she said. "Alexandria's food stores are very, very good to us."
For those who prefer to donate food, Canadian Pacific is emphasizing healthy food choices. Among those that Bump said they can use are: brown rice, whole wheat crackers, oatmeal, 100 percent fruit juice, canned soup, dry milk powder, fresh milk, yogurt and cheese, canned meat and fish, peanut butter, and dried or canned beans.
In all, the railroad has raised more than $14.5 million in Canadian dollars and 4.3 million pounds of food for North American food banks since launching the Holiday Train in 1999.
Besides the donations raised from the public when the train is here, Bump will be called up on stage to accept a generous contribution.
"When they first started coming through town in 2012, we received $1,000 from them," she said. That contribution has grown to more than four times that amount. Last year's CP check was for $4,500. "That is really a big donation. So we've been very, very blessed."
There is a big need in the area for those donations. The Outreach Food Shelf feeds more than 500 families a month, and about 14,000 people, Bump said.
"That's a lot of people," she said. "We give out about 750,000 pounds of food a year, and that's just in Douglas County."
December is the month where it receives a majority of its donations, which is another reason why gifts of money is preferred over food items.
"I don't think people realize that the food shelf runs totally on donations," Bump said. "We have no paid people. All of us are volunteers. Every penny that's given to us goes to our food."
The food shelf is open every day, and Mondays until 7 p.m.
The U.S.-bound Holiday Train, which left Montreal on Nov. 25, will run through Quebec, New York, Ontario, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin and North Dakota, and make 20 stops in all in Minnesota.
"It's fun for the kids. It's a nice event, and it's only a half-hour, so it's not taking a lot of time out of your day," Bump said, adding that she would love to see it come in the evening or on a weekend when more children and adults can attend. "They also have pretty good entertainment."
The entertainers at the three regional stops this year will be Willy Porter and the Trews.
Porter, who got his start in Madison and still resides in Wisconsin, has amassed a loyal following through more than two decades of music and 11 albums. He has shared the stage with Jeff Beck, Tori Amos and Paul Simon, and said he is excited about being a part of the Holiday Train.
"Each whistle stop combines humanitarian effort with the musical spirit of the holidays, making the CP Holiday Train one of the greatest projects I have had the honor to be a part of," Porter said.
He will be joined on the train's pull-down stage by Canadian rock band the Trews. They consist of four songwriters, including singer-guitarist Colin MacDonald, and boast several hit songs, six studio and two live albums.