Toys for Tots to arrive by truck, not train

Julie Lewis | The Daily StarThe Marine Corps Reserve/Dunkin’ Toys for Tots Train pulls in to a stop in Oneonta on Dec. 1, 2018.

The annual Capital Region Toys for Tots train, which makes stops in Cobleskill, Oneonta and Bainbridge, will not be running this year, according to officials.

Instead, a convoy of tractor trailers, buses and emergency vehicles will deliver the toys, said Patrick Lurenz, Capital Region Toys for Tots staff sergeant. The toy delivery date, Saturday, Dec. 7, remains the same.

Last year, the northern run of the New York train route lost its partnership with Amtrak, Lurenz said. The railroad service cited financial reasons and new corporate guidelines among reasons it couldn't continue the service for Toys for Tots, Lurenz said.

"There wasn't a lot of discussion," Lurenz said. "They cited that, and that was the end of it."

Last year, toys were distributed along the northern distribution route via a convoy of tractor trailers, buses and emergency vehicles, Lurenz said.

The southern run, which goes from Binghamton to Delanson, was taken over by Norfolk Southern Railway with the help of Bennett Levin, a Philadelphia business person known for restoring and operating many historic railroad passenger cars, according to www.engr.psu.edu/leonhardcenter/people/biographies/bennettlevin.html

However, this year Norfolk Southern, which owns the tracks, informed Toys for Tots on Nov. 17 it couldn't gain the permissions necessary to run the trains, Lurenz said. 

"Norfolk Southern is honored to have served as one of the sponsors of the Capital Region Toys for Tots train for the last four years, maintaining our commitment to participate through the train’s 20th anniversary run in 2018," a Norfolk Southern spokesperson said in an email statement sent to The Daily Star on Tuesday, Nov. 26. "Prior to last year’s event, Norfolk Southern advised Capital Region Toys for Tots that we would not be able to continue our participation in the train excursion in the future."

The convoy worked well for the northern run last year, Gordon said.

"We feel we can accomplish and replicate this to serve our southern community as well," Gordon said.

Lurenz said he thinks Norfolk Southern will eventually provide support again when it's able to. He said he believes Norfolk Southern is in a transition period with temporary administration, which may have affected its ability to participate.

This year, the Toys for Tots convoy will run from Albany to Binghamton, making stops in SUNY Albany, SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Oneonta, Bainbridge and finishing at SUNY Binghamton.

Pending approval from SUNY, the arrival time at SUNY Cobleskill would be 10:48 a.m., 12:03 p.m. at SUNY Oneonta and 1:13 p.m. at General Clinton Park in Bainbridge, Lurenz said in an email to The Daily Star on Tuesday. Though the arrival times are tentative, Lurenz said he doesn't see any issues arising. 

Bainbridge Chamber of Commerce President John Payne said the event also draws people from surrounding areas, including Sidney, Unadilla and Afton. Village of Bainbridge Mayor Philip Wade said that last year there were probably 200 to 300 people in attendance.

The Toys for Tots train program each year collects donated toys for the Toys for Tots Foundation, which redistributes them to underprivileged children within the collection area, according to its website. Toys for Tots also hands out winter gear, cookies and "stocking stuffers" to anyone who shows up at the event, Lurenz said.

Wade said once the time is determined, he will send out an email blast and probably post it on the village website and Facebook page. 

"It's really well anticipated," Wade said. "A lot of people in the community like to come out and take advantage of the fact that Marines are handing out free clothes, Freihofer's hands out chocolate chip cookies ... It's kind of like a big party."

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

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