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El Paso County Colorado District 49

Santa’s Toy Express

Twenty-one years ago, RJ Berry, El Paso County Colorado School District 49 bus driver, saw a need in the district and set in motion what has become a fun Christmas tradition for about 50 elementary school children ages 4 to 8.The event started small with the district giving a coat and a toy to each child. CeCe Catherwood, transportation administrative assistant, said after that, Santaís Toy Express took off.Today it is a full day of food, shopping, fun activities, gifts and a visit with Santa.The day begins at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday in the transportation department building when about 100 volunteer elves report for duty to cook and prepare for the day. Volunteers are D 49 employees and members of the ROTC, the Reserve Officersí Training Corps. The sleighs (school buses) are dispatched to pick up the children and bring them back to the transportation building for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, pancakes, sausages, juice and milk. After breakfast, the children get back on the sleigh with Santa and Mrs. Claus and their individual volunteer sponsor, and head to Walmart where they are given a $50 gift card to buy presents for their families. After returning to the transportation building, a crew of elves helps them wrap their presents.But wait, thereís more.The children all receive a blanket, coat, hat, gloves and toys. There is a puppet show, face painting, a movie and a chance to make holiday decorations. They each get time to talk to Santa and tell him what they want for Christmas. Santa also has more toys to hand out. There are snacks of cookies, juice and milk. By about 3 p.m., the children are back home, the building is cleaned up and ready for regular operations on Monday, and the elves have headed home.Santaís Toy Express is a year-long effort by the transportation department. They organize fundraiser lunches with an international theme, a chili cook-off and soup and bread. Attendees bring food to share and pay $5 per person. Catherwood said teachers sometimes give more. ìIt costs around $6,000 to $8,000 for the Santaís Toy Express event. We also receive donations from Walmart, ROTC, The State Bank, Farmers State Bank, McCandless and other vendors that the district uses,î she said. Every year, the transportation department puts up an angel tree and adds a tag with each childís name on it. Employees can choose a tag from the tree and purchase a gift.Catherwood said they can support 50 children. ìWe have to limit it, unfortunately. Usually, one child per household,î she said. ìBut the need is so much more.î Teachers in grades kindergarten through third grade make recommendations to their principals who in turn provide a list to the transportation department.This year, the event is being held Dec. 3. ìThis is my 20th year,î Catherwood said. ìWe hope to continue this for many more years. We want people to know that this is happening and that our children in our communities really need the help.îDonations for the Santaís Toy Express event are always welcome. Checks can be sent to District 49 in care of the transportation department, with a note on the memo line:ìSantaís Express.î (10850 East Woodmen Road, Falcon 80831-8127)

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