The crisp air on Saturday was a reminder that the holidays were only a few short weeks away as attendees at the annual Toys for Tots Operation Toy Train event at Sparta Train Station greeted Santa and the toy-filled train dedicated to collecting toys for families in need. The Operation Toy Train collection benefits the Toys for Tots Foundation. In total, 820 toys were collected in Sparta contributing to the 11,347 toys that were collected along the nine train stops in New Jersey on Saturday. All the toys are then routed to Picatinny Arsenal and will be distributed to families in Northern New Jersey through area nonprofit organizations.
"It's a wonderful event to kick off the season of giving," said event organizer, Katelyn Leondi, Arina Group LLC. "We couldn't do it without the support of local businesses, schools and volunteers who contribute their time, energy and resources to bring this event to fruition and allow for many free activities and attractions for families."
Outside the train station, the event welcomed back Bob Johnson of Decorative Flairs Ice Sculpting, courtesy of a sponsorship from Henry O. Baker Insurance. Attendees watched Bob carve two ice sculptures with a chainsaw, blowtorch and a chisel. Mountainside Stables joined the event this year with pony rides and a petting zoo thanks to event sponsor Thorlabs. Additionally, the Sparta Fire Department and Sparta Historical Society had a fire truck and antique Ford Model T on display for children to climb into and explore. In the Police Athletic League (PAL) building, attendees enjoyed games, activities including make-and-take crafts that were underwritten by local businesses such as Dawn Carbo of Weichert Realtors, Alpine Montessori, Spavia, Ava & Jack, Perfect Pointe Performing Arts Studio, Sparta Books, Lakeland Bank and others. The Sussex Country Model Railroad Club operated one of their train displays which was a crowd favorite.
The culminating event is Santa's arrival to the Train Station onboard Operation Toy train. Crowds along the railroad's fence eagerly awaited Santa's appearance. The Sparta High School Chorus sang carols as Santa disembarked with the two U.S. Marines to greet the crowd. Santa met with children and posed for family photos inside the train station. Train Creative electronically distributes the photos to attendees in the coming week.