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El Paso County Colorado District 49

Santa’s Toy Express is coming to town

The Falcon School District 49 Transportation Department is buzzing with excitement these days. Dec. 8 is marked on everyone’s calendar – it’s the day Santa’s Toy Express arrives.Each year, the transportation department sponsors a Christmas shopping spree for about 50 kids from the district. The kids are chosen based on special circumstances. The shopping spree allows them to buy Christmas presents for their families and loved ones.The children are picked up by a Falcon school bus and taken to the auxiliary services building, where the transportation department is located. There, they enjoy a health breakfast and a surprise visit from Santa Claus, who arrives in a Falcon Fire Protection District fire engine.”They are all smiles, from ear to ear,” said one firefighter. “That’s why we do it; we love to see them smile.”After breakfast, each child is paired with a sponsor and receives a $30 gift certificate to Wal-Mart where they shop for presents for their families. “We don’t have to teach them that sharing is important, they already know that,” said R.J. Berry, bus driver and main organizer of the annual event. “I’ve seen them buy pillows, clothes and things that are just everyday things.”After their shopping spree, the students return to the transportation department building, where they continue to enjoy the holiday cheer. They can watch a movie, sing Christmas carols and sit on Santa’s lap while their gifts are wrapped by volunteers. Before they leave, the kids receive gifts of their own: a new coat, a new backpack, a $10 personal gift, as well as a $25 gift card to Safeway. “Kids don’t really know what to expect, especially at 5 and 6 years of age, but they are absolutely thrilled,” Berry said.A group of Falcon school bus drivers founded the program six years. “We saw a need and wanted to go out and help our kids – this has given us a chance,” Berry said. The event is funded mainly by donations from local businesses and a few fundraisers. The first year, 15 students participated but throughout the years, the number has grown to about 49 students, which gave birth to the slogan “helping 49 in 49.”The students are not necessarily selected on a basis of need, but more on “special circumstances,” Berry said. A child might be chosen if the family has fallen on hard times or if a parent is serving overseas in the military. The bus drivers don’t choose the participants; staff members of each school are asked to compile a list of seven names of students, from pre-school to third grade. The transportation department is then responsible for contacting parents, planning bus routes and preparing for Santa’s Toy Express.Has the need grown with Falcon’s growth?”It seems there are a lot of foster families in the area, but it is hard for me to say if there is a growing need,” Berry said. “There’s always a need in any community.” However, the demographics have changed, he said. When the transportation department staff contacted the families this year, six out of eight families needed a translator because they could not speak English.The program has helped preserve a spirit of community as Falcon’s growth continues. Santa’s Toy Express has brought a variety of people together for a common cause, Berry said. Many local businesses have generously donated to Santa’s Toy Express: Wal-Mart, Safeway, The State Bank, Farmers State Bank and Mountain View Electric. Shriever Air Force Base supplies many volunteers. The Horizon Middle School has encouraged its students to raise money through fundraisers like craft fairs. Falcon High School has involved the older students, especially those in ROTC, with the preparation of set-up, wrapping presents, serving food and interacting with the younger children. The Falcon Fire Protection District has always been on hand to provide transportation and assistance.As one firefighter said, “It shows we care for the community – and we care for the kids.”Santa’s Toy Express is grateful for individual donations and business donations. Please call the transportation department at 495-0020 or send a donation toSanta’s Toy Express10850 E. Woodmen RoadFalcon, CO 80831

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