For 75 years, gold-level FFA sponsor CSX – a major transportation company – has brought Christmas joy to thousands of children and families in rural Appalachia. Every year, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, CSX’s Santa Train chugs along 110 miles of track through the mountains of Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee.
A holiday tradition since 1943, the Santa Train stops at 14 locations between Pikeville, Ky., and Kingsport, Tenn. The train’s passenger cars are loaded with more than 15 tons and over $200,000 worth of gifts, including toys, books, backpacks, fresh fruit, candy, coats and meal vouchers, which are distributed at each stop. The gifts and meal vouchers are donated by CSX, Food City, the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, Soles4Souls and Appalachian Power.
“CSX and its predecessor railroads have been part of this community for many years,” says Leslie Higgins, manager, stakeholder events and crisis planning. “The Santa Train connects CSX, its partners and employees with the local citizens in a special way during this annual season of giving.”
FFA members have been among the many volunteers to help make the Santa Train possible. At each stop, volunteers carry bags of gifts off the train, and Santa and his elves distribute toys from the back of the train to the enthusiastic crowd. In addition to volunteers from CSX, FFA and local communities, country music stars, including Wynonna Judd, Amy Grant and Ricky Skaggs, have also passed out gifts along the way.
The Santa Train has become one of Appalachia’s most anticipated holiday traditions.
“The reaction from people is genuine surprise and appreciation,” Higgins says.