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Toy Express arrives again

The Falcon School District 49 Transportation Department hosted 50 elementary school students Dec. 6 for the Santa Toy Express, an annual event designed to bring Christmas cheer to children of need. R.J. Berry, D 49 bus driver, is the coordinator of the activities, which include breakfast, Christmas shopping at Wal-Mart, crafts and a visit from Santa Claus.Children arrived on D 49 buses at the district offices at 8 a.m. and were greeted by Mrs. Claus, who assigned an adult chaperon to each child. Volunteers from Falcon High School ROTC, Horizon Middle School, Schriever Air Force Base and D 49 employees made the event successful, Berry said.The event cost $6,000, all donated from fundraisers, individuals, businesses and corporate sponsors, such as Wal-Mart, The State Bank and Farmers Bank, Berry said. The transportation department hosted three potluck lunches and raised $1,800. They also received a $1,500 anonymous donation and $800 from the Horizon Middle School Community Club.When he started driving buses for D 49, Berry said he saw a need for a holiday program for children in the district. Retired from the retail sector, he said he modeled the Santa Toy Express after an event held each year by K-Mart.Cindy Hardin, transportation director, said she jumped at the idea when Berry approached her six years ago. “R.J. is great at pulling this together and the whole department gets behind it. It keeps getting bigger and bigger every year,” she said.The elementary schools select the children, Hardin said. “Sometimes, it’s financial or medical need,” she said. “Last year, a family was nominated because their mother had just died and the children needed a special boost for the holidays.”The children were fed breakfast and then loaded onto buses that took them to Wal-Mart for a shopping trip. Accompanied by a chaperon, each child received a $40 gift card to buy presents for family members.”These kids all want their families to have a nice Christmas,” Berry said. “The nice thing is that in buying gifts for others they are learning to share.”After the shopping trip, the children returned to the D 49 bus barn and wrapped gifts, made ornaments and watched a movie. They also visited Santa, who gave each child a gift bag containing a new coat, hat, gloves, backpack and toys. Berry said the gifts to each child totaled about $100. Each child also went home with a $30 gift card to Safeway, intended to provide Christmas dinner.”I have this need to make sure that everybody has something in this world that makes a difference in someone’s life. This is my chance to make the dreams of children come true,” Berry said.He also insisted that, although he is the mastermind behind the event, he couldn’t put together the day without help from his co-workers. “This is the bus drivers’ program,” Berry said. “If you want to have a good feeling at Christmas, what a better way than to help these kids.”

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