Two Canadian Pacific freight trains decorated for Christmas set off Wednesday on trips through Canada and the United States to collect food for the needy.
One of the CP "Holiday Trains" will wind westward through Canada from Beaconsfield, Quebec, and the second set out from Scranton, Pa., for the Midwest. Each is festooned with hundreds of thousands of lights and decorations.
By Dec. 16, the trains will have stopped in 150 communities, offering live entertainment from a converted boxcar stage and volunteers will collect non-perishable food for local food banks.
CP spokesman Ed Greenberg, who this year is riding the U.S. train, told United Press International collected food won't travel far.
"Everything that is raised in a community stays in that community for local distribution," he said. "We feel it's important to show our support for local food shelves, especially at this critical time of year."
The annual project began in 1999 and so far has raised nearly $6.4 million and collected about 2.6 million pounds of food for North American food banks.
On the U.S. run this year, CP announced it would match the value of corporate and individual donations up to $250,000 to help victims of Hurricane Sandy, the hard-hitting superstorm that pummeled New York and New Jersey, along with other parts of the Eastern United States after a deadly trek through the Caribbean.
"The employees of Canadian Pacific hope our railroad's contribution will help in the rebuilding effort that continues in the aftermath of this horrific storm," Greenberg said.
Each train has 14 cars, three of which are restored business cars from the 1920s when CP also offered passenger service. Six CP employees will live and work in the cars for the next three weeks, along with the entertainers who perform at each stop, he said.
Greenberg said the effort is spread far beyond the employees on each train.
"About 1,000 CP employees across our network in Canada and the United States are involved in the Holiday Train program each year," he said. "There are also thousands of community volunteers who make each event a success in their communities."
Earlier this month, the railway based in Calgary, Alberta, announced it was donating $1 million to relief efforts from Sandy, with $250,000 to the American Red Cross, $250,000 to the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City and $250,000 to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund. The balance will come from donation-matching from the U.S. Holiday Train.
At the time, company President E. Hunter Harrison said the railroad felt a moral obligation to help.
"CP and its employees believe that dedicating this year's Holiday Train to the spirit of neighbors supporting neighbors applies directly to disasters such as the one we have just experienced," he said.
The original idea of the cross-border food drive began in the 1990s when CP management polled employees on how best the company could make a difference in the two countries it services. Fighting hunger emerged as their top priority. That evolved into turning trains into brilliant rolling spectacles to attract donations, Greenberg said.
This year, the two Holiday Trains will travel a combined 6,000 miles. Since 1999, the trains have traveled more than 100,000 miles, Greenberg told UPI.
The trains' schedules and progress can be monitored on Facebook under "Holiday Train."