Kentucky hosts an 8-decade-long tradition of distributing gifts on Christmas with its beloved 'The Santa Train.'
Christmas is a festival every child waits with bated breath because of the joy it entails. Unfortunately, not everyone has the privilege to enjoy Christmas to the fullest due to varied reasons. To make this festival memorable for everyone, the Santa Train has made it its mission to make sure that they spread the Christmas spirit as far and wide as possible. The 'train' ensures that no child who visits it goes away without any gift, per PEOPLE. The gift signifies to the children that they are 'loved' and no kid should miss out on that feeling. It is with this intention that the noble cause is entering its 8th decade.
The Santa Train functions in eastern Kentucky, east Tennessee and southwest Virginia and is operated by CSX freight railroad company, an organization that shuts down 110 miles of track every year for a noble purpose. Bryan Tucker, 44, vice president of corporate communications for CSX said, "It's the longest Santa parade in the United States. The joy that we see on the faces of the people is what makes it the most special for me."
The train starts the journey from Pikeville, Kentucky and ends at Kingsport, Tennesse, per The Kentucky Wildlands. The journey usually happens before Thanksgiving. It has 14 stops, where children and adults gather to get the gifts. The initiative is supported by local organizations like CSX, Food City, the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, Appalachian Power and Soles4Souls. The tradition is beloved in the locality, with people waiting every year for the train to arrive and spread Christmas joy.
The whole endeavor began back in 1943. Now, it distributes almost 15 tons of toys, treats and clothes every year to the recipients. Ruth Mann Collins, now in her 80s, used to get gifts from the train as a child. She received immense joy from the whole initiative and is now giving back by helping the cause. "The train coming around the track, blowing that horn and the children screaming and laughing and jumping up and down,” Collins told the outlet. "It's just worth every minute. It is just wonderful."
Collins herself explained how crucial the gifts were during her childhood. Her parents were not financially sound and couldn't afford Christmas gifts for their 11 kids. Therefore, the siblings went to the Santa Train. "They never let us down," she says. "Without them, I wouldn't have got very much for Christmas." The train works with 100 volunteers, of which 30 are from the Collins family. They participate in loading and unloading the train and handing out cookies and breakfast cereal along with the toys and winter clothing.
"I want to give back, to make sure other children get something for Christmas, like I got," she says. "Because I was that child on that track years and years ago." The best part of this for her is seeing the joy on children's faces. "We make sure that every child has a Christmas," Collins adds. "It may not be a lot, but to a child, just one toy makes them happy. That makes me smile." The initiative has gained a ton of celebrity admirers, with individuals like Amy Grant, Alison Krauss, Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs and the Judds having made an appearance.