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Operation Toy Train canceled due to COVID concerns

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By Kyle Morel
Posted August 18, 2020 at 1:20 PM

 

The Toys for Tots Operation Toy Train program has become the latest local event to be canceled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

While the train will not be running as scheduled this year, Operation Toy Train will still collect items in time for the holidays, said organizers.

The program will announce a different collection method in the next few weeks that “reflects the realities of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

The annual drive collects donated toys and other gift items at train stops throughout northern New Jersey and southern New York. The train has made its way to the Sparta Train Station since 2016 and stopped at the Vernon Recreation Center for the first time last year.

The Sparta stop in particular, which features a variety of festive activities and an appearance from Santa Claus on the train, has become a popular destination for families during the holiday season. Because of COVID-19 concerns, however, Operation Toy Train officials have decided not to embark on the traditional route this year.

“Unfortunately, the regular operation of our train would necessitate the close proximity of volunteer personnel to each other on board the train, as well as to members of the public at each of our collection stops, making proper social distancing impossible,” organizers said, “We know this is a disappointing decision, but we feel it is the only way to ensure the safety of the hundreds of people involved in the success of our annual train.”

Now in its 12th year, Operation Toy Train collects more than 25,000 toys each year for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Foundation to distribute to underprivileged children in local communities.

 

“While this year’s specific circumstances have forced us to temporarily revise our operations, there are absolutely no plans to end this long-standing tradition,” the organizers said. “We will be working closely with the Marines and the Toys for Tots Foundation to adapt our 2020 collection efforts to the extent possible, and we will find a way to continue spreading holiday cheer along our regular routes in a responsible and healthy manner.”

The stop at the Sparta Train Station has been held the same weekend as the nearby Lake Mohawk German Christmas Market multiple times in recent years, which has likely contributed to an attendance boost. The market, which announced in March that it was moving to the Sussex County Fairgrounds, was canceled for the 2020 season in June due to COVID-19 concerns.

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