Communities could have lost a good time and funding for crucial services with the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train’s cancellation this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the annual event will go virtual this year.

Since it first launched in 1999, the Holiday Train has traveled across Canada and the northern United States raising money, collecting food and drawing attention to the important work of local food banks. In its first 21 years, the train has raised $17.8 million and collected 4.8 million pounds of food for local food banks in communities along CP’s network.

“We cannot responsibly bring the train over and on the route it normally goes that brings those big community gatherings together,” said Andy Cummings, a CP spokesperson. “So we are bringing our concert live and airing it over our Facebook.”

The Holiday Train At Home concert will take place at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 12, on the Canadian Pacific Facebook page. Bringing live music into the homes of the people who normally would attend the Holiday Train events is only step one of the process. In addition, Cummings said CP will be making donations to all 201 local food banks the Holiday Train has benefited in the last two years.

“The need is significant out there at this time of year, so we made the determination to make all of those donations again,” Cummings said, noting that while there are some stops that alternate years on the regular schedule, every food bank will be included in 2020.

The Marketplace inside Community Pathways in Owatonna has been one of the food shelves to reap the benefits from the program. For Community Pathways, that means the Marketplace will receive a $5,000 donation.

“Our average cost per meal right now is about 14 cents, so this $5,000 will be huge as it will help so many households in Steele County,” said Jess Stromley, the marketing coordinator for Community Pathways. “We saw a small decline in our services when COVID first hit, and I think that may have been because people were scared, but now we’re back on the uptick again – our numbers in the last two months have jumped.”

While the Holiday Train events typically encourage those who attend to bring a donation to the food shelf, whether it be monetary or a nonperishable item, Stromley said monetary donations are currently going a lot further at the Marketplace. Because there is limited space to quarantine donated food items for the mandatory three days, Stromley said they have been unable to promote food drives.

“We still allow other people to do them and of course we will graciously accept them and find the room for it,” Stromley said. “But with our prepackaged boxes, that has doubled the cost in food for us. Our food bank has now allowed us to order food like usual again, but now we’re doing our own prepackaging. It’s a little cheaper, but we’re also giving them a lot more food than what the normal package would be.”

With the need still great in the Steele County community, and with the winter months inevitably increasing that need, Stromley said the decision by CP to make the same donation they made in 2019 is a sigh of relief as they embark on what could be a very long winter. Cummings said all donations made to the 201 food shelves will match their most recent donation from CP Corporate.

“During our virtual event, we will talk about the important work local food banks are doing and hope people will consider making an additional donation to them,” Cummings said. He said CP will also be providing a link to Feeding America, a nonprofit hunger relief organization with a nationwide network of food banks, as an option for a place to make donations.

CP anticipates bringing the Holiday Train back on the circuit in 2021.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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