Toy train carries delight for kids and hope for families

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  • See that toy train a-comin', into Sparta Station last Saturday Photos by Laurie Gordon

  • US Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Clayton, who heads up the Marines Toys for Tots at Picatinny Arsenal.

  • Santa arrived by rail, not sleigh

  • Elves unloading from train to truck

  • From left, a US Marine from Picattinny Arsenal, Lorraine Parker, Meghan Tobin, a representative of UPS, Gunnery Sgt. Clayton, and a representative of Project Self-Sufficiency

  • Santa doing is job

  • More elves unloading goods at Project Self-Sufficiency in Newton

By Laurie Gordon

Santa didn't come on a sleigh on Saturday. He came in a train filled with toys, and when the children gathered saw the bright yellow engine steaming up the track the looks of joy in their eyes were priceless.

But it's other looks of joy on Christmas morning that parents get to see that are even more precious. It's the look on a child's face who, if not for the Marines' Toy Train and Project Self-Sufficiency, would not be opening a present.

Since 2009, Operation Toy Train has operated a special train in northern New Jersey and southern New York during the first two weekends of December. The train collects over 20,000 donated toys annually for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation, which redistributes them to underprivileged children right in our area. This is the second year that Sparta was selected to be on the route and will be the eighth and final stop on a train that originates in Rochelle Park, NJ.

The toys collected by Operation Toy Train on December 2 will be distributed to children and teens through the Season of Hope Toy Shop operated by Project Self-Sufficiency in mid-December. In 2016, the toy shop served more than 2,100 children from Sussex and Northern Warren counties, and organizers anticipate that the need will be even greater this year.

United States Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Clayton is heading up the Marines Toys for Tots at Picatinny Arsenal.

“We have to have 20,000 toys already,” he said. “The train and the generosity of the community is just overwhelming. It's a beautiful thing.”

Project Self-Sufficiency Board of Directors member, the Honorable Lorraine Parker, J.A.D. (retired) was on hand to watch the magic as volunteer “elves” hauled toys from train to truck.

“This is the best community effort. It's more than you can imagine and helps so many families,” she said.

Meghan Tobin, 20 is a blogger and goes by the name Sinfullyriddling. She's intersted in doing social media and community management within the gaming industry. She also has always loved Christmas, and for the second year in a row, has collected toys for Project Self-Sufficeincy.

The Warren native said, "Growing up I always loved Christmas and find it so sad that there are children that will not get toys at Christmas. I wanted to do what I could to help this project."

A U-Haul truck full of toys was the result of her efforts.

Trucks filled with toys pulled out of Sparta Station and caravanned to Newton where more elves were waiting to unload them and bring the toys into the agency's main area which will be transformed into The Toy Shop.

In Netwon, Project Self-Sufficiency's founder, executive director and guiding light, Deborah Berry-Toon, eagerly awaited the arrival of the toys.

“We are delighted to receive the toys contributed by Operation Toy Train to the Season of Hope Toy Drive. The sheer volume of items donated today underscores the amount of support given to low-income families by our community, and demonstrates that each child will be cared for and remembered during this holiday season.”

For those who enjoyed Saturday's arrival of Santa, a cup of coco and carolers, there was also a humbling revelation that there are many children who, if not for this initiative, would not receive a toy this holiday season.

Donations of new, unwrapped toys and monetary donations will be gratefully received at Project Self-Sufficiency, 127 Mill Street, Newton through Thursday, December 14th. Monetary donations can also be made online; for more information, visit <URL destination=" ">

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