Santa's lost his ride this year. Despite months of effort trying to save it, this week Caltrain managers canceled the holiday train that has collected thousands of toys over the years for children who otherwise might not find anything under the Christmas tree.
"It's heartbreaking to me because it's one of the things in my job that I really enjoy doing. It brings so much joy to people out in the community," said agency spokesperson Tasha Bartholomew.
This would have been the 10th annual holiday train. Ms. Bartholomew said the executive team made the decision on Tuesday, Oct. 26, even though, as The Almanac reported earlier, the agency still planned a scaled-down version of the train, with fewer stops and less decoration.
The changes came after the annual toy donation drive had its budget slashed from $38,000 to $12,000, said Ms. Bartholomew.
Caltrain realized that budget wouldn't include necessities such as lighting and sound systems at the train stops, and that scheduling entertainment this late in the year was nearly impossible, according to the spokesperson.
Last year the train collected approximately 4,400 toys for the Salvation Army and U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.
Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Thomas, who organizes the Marine Corps toy drive, said he could tell how much the news upset Caltrain employees. "I understand they have to be good stewards of taxpayers' money. Their hearts are in the right places, but they have the money people above them."
He remains hopeful for this year's donations anyway, saying he'd received another 17 requests on Thursday morning for collection boxes. Last year the Marine Corps placed 600 boxes locally.
"We'll just drive on. Lucasfilm donates thousands of toys; I think we're going to be fine. But it would've been fun," said Sgt. Thomas.
Caltrain hopes to bring the train back next year, but will need to aggressively seek sponsors, Ms. Bartholomew said.
As for this year -- Caltrain employees are donating toys on their own, according to Ms. Bartholomew. "It's going to be a very small fraction of what the train usually contributes."