Transit Giving Back for the Holidays

Philadelphia, PA

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)

SEPTA Employees Show their Holiday Spirit — by the Busload

In the days leading up to Christmas, the Southeastern Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) headquarters in Center City Philadelphia becomes Santa’s North Pole Workshop — South Division, overflowing with thousands of toys donated by SEPTA employees as part of the authority’s annual Yuletoy Drive for deserving children across SEPTA’s five-county service area. This year marks SEPTA’s 31st annual toy drive, and employees across the authority will fill bright red drums with thousands of toys ranging from bicycles and baby dolls to guitars and games. In 2010, staff donated approximately 4,000 gifts.

While Santa has a year to prepare for his big delivery, the entire Yuletoy Drive, from collection to distribution, happens in just one month’s time. For more than 20 years, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, in addition to her daily job duties, Carol Looby, assistant secretary to the SEPTA board, has taken on the challenge of organizing the toy drive. But for Looby, each Yuletoy is a welcome event. “In many cases, the toys we give these children will be the only gifts they receive,” she said. “To think that one toy could put a smile on a child’s face makes it worth the effort.”

Just like Santa, SEPTA has a special team of “elves” to assist with toy packing and delivery — from the print shop staff making the signs to operators dropping off and picking up barrels at 70 locations through the authority and on-site coordinators who make sure their colleagues help, the toy drive’s success is the work of many dedicated SEPTA employees. In fact, some employees are so passionate about the toy drive that they help out on their vacation days and even after they’ve retired from the authority.

Since three days before Christmas is crunch time for Santa, after the toys are purchased, collected, sorted and packaged, his SEPTA helpers also step in to make sure their gifts are delivered to the children in time for the holiday. But these elves don’t travel in a sled pulled by a red-nosed reindeer — they hit the road SEPTA-style in a hybrid bus.

With gifts packed to the roof, Santa’s helpers, SEPTA General Manager Joe Casey and Transport Workers Union Local 234 President John Johnson on board, the SEPTA sleigh heads out throughout the Philadelphia region, dropping off toys to some of the 10 organizations that benefit from the event.

“The groups we help are most appreciative of everything we give them,” said Casey. “Being able to share our good fortune with those in need it is truly a Christmas blessing.”

San Carlos, CA

San Mateo County Transit District


SamTrans Employees Lend Santa a Hand

Just how does one jolly old elf come up with a toy for every good little boy and girl? On the San Francisco Peninsula, Santa counts on SamTrans and Caltrain. Since 2001, the San Mateo County Transit District has sponsored a toy drive for needy Bay Area children.

This year, SamTrans is joining a holiday celebration in one of the cities served by the transit agency. The Redwood City Hometown Holidays Festival and Fireworks Show features all the fun of a traditional winter holiday event, including snow.

People are invited to bring a new unwrapped toy or book to the SamTrans booth where costumed characters will collect toys for the Salvation Army and the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots program. There will be live entertainment and plenty of chances for “photo-ops” with Santa and his helpers.

Later in the afternoon, the little SamTrans Mini-bus will lead Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer in the holiday parade.

Santa’s helpers also will collect toys at the transit district’s San Carlos headquarters. Cookies and hot chocolate will be served at an afternoon event that is open to the public. Employees also have the opportunity to drop off toys in toy bins located throughout the transit agency’s three facilities.

In years past, SamTrans sponsored the annual Caltrain Holiday Train.

Although budget considerations forced the suspension of the Holiday Train in 2009, SamTrans has continued to conduct a toy drive. In the 10 years since the toy drive began, SamTrans and Caltrain have collected more than 45,000 gifts for the peninsula’s neediest children.

The Caltrain Holiday Train featured a dedicated train set transformed into a show-train decorated with thousands of lights. The world’s largest toy train visited selected stations, bringing holiday joy and the music of the season.

At each of the train’s 20-minute station stops, people enjoyed onboard carolers and a Salvation Army brass band. Pulled by a Caltrain locomotive, the train sometimes included vintage passenger cars, as well as a “stage car” for performers. At each stop, Santa, Mrs. Claus and their extended family got off the train to greet children and pose for pictures.

Local entertainers performed for families waiting for the arrival of the train at the stations. Model railroad displays at historic stations were opened before and after the arrival of the train.

Weeks before the train made its trips down the peninsula, volunteers were hard at work, attaching the decorations to rail cars and wiring it all together for the dazzling nighttime display.

SamTrans employees were joined by community volunteers to deck out the train, a labor of love that was rewarded by the number of toys that are donated, and by seeing children’s faces light up when Santa arrives on the train.

Hopes are high that the Caltrain Holiday Train will be back next year. Santa’s elves are working feverishly behind the scenes to develop sponsorships and funding partnerships.