CTA Holiday Train delivers food baskets and cheer

It's not very often that rush hour passengers on the El are seen smiling and laughing as they huddle together on a platform in freezing weather.

Recently, many even waved and chuckled, and one even yelled out, "I love you, Santa!" Santa merrily replied, "I love you, all!"

It was not a long workday or bitter cold that induced this delirium. It's the CTA Holiday train, the tremendously decorated, music playing beacon of holiday spirit that rides the rails this time of year.

The train isn't just a seasonal bauble. It also delivers a different kind of holiday cheer - food baskets for needy families throughout the city donated by CTA employees.

This year the train has delivered 450 baskets of food for families at 18 different local organizations. The baskets include the fixings for a holiday meal, including a ham, potatoes, vegetables, muffin mix and macaroni and cheese.

The organizations that receive that baskets say this year, because of the recession, they are dealing with more families in desperate financial straits than years before.

Rosita de la Rosa, prevention director for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, the CTA's blue line organization, says she had a hard time picking the 20 families that would receive baskets.

"The most challenging thing this year was the greater need," says Rosa. "There were just too many people on my list."

Rosa says she thinks the train doesn't just provide for practical needs, but it also brings a big dose of holiday cheer to that are facing challenges this holiday season.

"They were very appreciative," says Rosa. "Many of them wanted to just jump on the train."

Santa agrees. Mr. Claus, a CTA employee who would not agree to release his real name, says he enjoys bringing a smile to the faces of children and adults.

"I've had many, many people experience a change of heart after they see the train," says Claus. "They say it just takes them away from all that's keeping them down."

Claus volunteers his time on the rails, riding in a flat bed in the middle of the train complete with a large sleigh, snowmen and reindeer.

The outside of the train is heavily decorated with lights and snowflakes, and the inside is just as festive. With poles wrapped like candy canes, seats upholstered in holiday fabric, and seasonal tunes blasting from the seats, the ride even includes two elves in each car, handing out candy canes and train schedules.

Commuters on board the CTA Holiday Tree are treated to festive decorations. / By Justin Goh


The holiday train will make its last trips for 2008 this afternoon on the purple line express train and tomorrow afternoon on the yellow line train. For the schedule, visit the Chicago Transit Authority website.

Kimberly Schomburg, 25, says she first saw the train a little over three years ago since when she moved to Chicago. The Bucktown resident says she thinks it's a nice way to celebrate the season.

"I think it's a good way for people to experience a little more joy when they ride the train," says Schomburg.

She also likes that the train donate food to families that comes from CTA employees.

"We need to encourage people to give during this time of year," she says. "It's nice that they're doing that for others.