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Train’s arrival adds to holiday spirit

Gurnee-12/08/12 Sat./Old GrAve.
Members The Claytones SantTracey Brown (purple jacket) singing for Holiday Trafans Gurnee Saturday.
| Joe Shuman~For Sun-Times Media

Gurnee-12/08/12, Sat./Old Grand Ave. Members of The Claytones, Santa, and Tracey Brown (purple jacket) singing for Holiday Train fans in Gurnee Saturday. | Joe Shuman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 8, 2013 1:15AM

The annual Holiday Train, carrying the magic of Santa, arrived at Viking Park in Gurnee on Saturday afternoon to the cheering crowds of more than 1,000 people who braved the damp cold to welcome it.

Scarlette, 4, perched on the shoulders of her grandfather, Tom McCann, to watch the special Canadian Pacific Railway express, glistening with yuletide neon decorations, as it pulled into the park, punctually at 4:20 p.m. Its VIP passenger was Santa Claus.

“She is so happy,” exclaimed Scarlette’s grandmother, Betty. “We’ve been here before. One year, it was pouring. It’s pretty nice today by comparison,” she said.

Like many others, the McCanns came with a bag of canned food to donate to the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which had set up a bin to collect donations. The line in front of the bin was long but people were waiting patiently for their turn.

“It’s going to break the record,” said Brad Jenks, chairman of the Gurnee Chamber of Commerce, the festival’s main sponsor.

“We expected 1,500 people to be here, more than double the number last year,” he added, attributing the record attendance to advance publicity and promotion. People kept on coming to the festival throughout the evening. There was food, music and the holiday spirit was in the air.

“I like to give food to people who need them,” said Sarah, 8, daughter of Joe Maskala, who also brought son, Alex, 3, along.

“We’ve never seen anything like this. This is our first time. People are happy and celebrating,” said the father as they waited for the train behind a cordoned line of the railroad.

Unfortunately, he said his wife “couldn’t be here because she’s working.”

Kathy Wood of Lake Villa came with her 3-year-old grandson Zanoler, son Zeb Meyer of Round Lake Beach, and her mother, Eileen Wollmuth.

“Four generations of our family are here because this is unique,” said Kathy, shivering in the cold as she munched on corn chips.

“At least it’s not raining,” she added.

For those who donated canned and packaged goods, the Northern Illinois Food Bank gave each a ticket, with which the donors could receive snacks at a nearby tent set up by the Chamber of Commerce. The line was long and slow-moving. So was the line in front of a hot chocolate truck, courtesy of the North Shore University Health System.

The snacks offered in the tent included pizza, popcorn, chips and cookies. They were donated by some of the sponsors. Among the sponsors were Sam’s Club, Costco, Suzy’s Swirl, the chamber and, of course, the Canadian Pacific.

The food-bank officials were as merry as the holiday revelers.

“Because of generous donations from the community, a lot people will have plenty of food on the table,” gushed Hester Bury, director of corporate and foundation giving of the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

At least two area companies opened their purses for the occasion. Matt Towson, senior manager of community affairs for Discover, carried a huge board bearing the image of a $5,000 check for the food bank. Discover is a credit card company based in Riverwoods. Towson said his company donated a like amount last year.

Abbott Laboratories, said an excited Bury, has given the food bank $99,000.

“Wow,” responded those who heard it.

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