The El Paso County Colorado School District 49 Transportation Department will host the 22nd annual Santa’s Toy Express Dec. 3. Twenty-two years ago, RJ Berry, D 49 bus driver, saw a need in the district and set in motion what has become a day for about 50 elementary school children ages 4 to 8 to partake in a fun-filled Christmas experience.
Shauna Orth, transportation manager, said the day starts early for about 100 volunteers who cook breakfast for the children. D 49 bus drivers pick up the kids at home and drop them off at the Transportation Department building at 8:30 a.m. Each child is paired with an adult sponsor before Santa arrives on a fire truck (he leaves his sleigh at the North Pole) and everyone enjoys breakfast together. “After breakfast, the children are loaded on buses with their sponsors and Santa Claus … taken to Walmart where they are given gift cards to purchase gifts for their family members,” Orth said. “When we come back, we help them wrap their gifts.” Then, there are many more activities planned for the kids such as making ornaments, other crafts, face-painting, a puppet show and a visit with Santa.
“The day ends around 11:30 (a.m.), with gifts for the children and a stocking full of goodies and school supplies,” Orth said. The children also receive a new backpack, a winter coat, gloves, toys and a handmade blanket. Orth said two women — Joan and Corey — have been donating for at least eight years fleece blankets that they hand-sew for the children.
Orth said the maximum number of students they can host for the program is 50. “We don’t have the space for more but we might once we are in our new building next year, and if we can find more trusted adult sponsors,” she said.
The cost for the program is about $9,000. Transportation Department staff work on the event throughout the year by holding fundraisers like potluck lunches. Several businesses help sponsor the event.
“Everyone in our department works hard to keep the event going with the support of all D 49 staff,” Orth said. “We feel we’re giving back to the community of D 49 to help children and their families with special circumstances during the holiday season — bringing good Christmas cheer.”
Santa’s Toy Express: In 2015, Loren Lanckriet presented a magic show during Santa’s Toy Express event in School District 49.
When Santa Claus, played by Jim DeGeorge, arrived at the 2015 Santa’s Toy Express event, children showed their delight as they threw their hands up in the air to greet him. Photos submitted