Enthusiasm, toy donations, mini-rails welcome on Toys for Tots ride

Children from families in need were the big winners on Saturday when hundreds of unwrapped toys were collected during Westmoreland County Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots’ annual Mini-Rail Caravan at stops in Mt. Pleasant, Scottdale, Tarrs, Ruffs Dale, Hunker, Youngwood and Hempfield.

Among the hundreds who donated toys where the 19 North American Rail Car Operators Association mini-cars stopped during the 17-mile journey on the Southwestern Pennsylvania Railroad line were Luella Hagerman, 3, of Scottdale, daughter of Amanda Hagerman of Scottdale. .

“We think it’s a great way to give toys to children. It’s a great way to start the holidays,” said Amanda Hagerman, who said her daughter chose a mini cleaning set for a young girl and a tractor for a young boy.

Five-year-old David McElfresh, who was with his father, Justin McElfresh of the Everson area in Fayette County, boarded one of the wagons and sat in the operator’s seat.

“We wanted to drop off toys for the kids, and he wanted to see Santa Claus,” Justin McElfresh said. A couple dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus were among the wagon operators.

Organizers of the initiative in Westmoreland County expect they will be able to provide more toys to children this holiday season than last year, when Christmas for 2,460 pupils was brightened up by their efforts, said Dennis Blank, chairman of Toys for Tots County, which started in 1995.

Through the Total Campaign, with collection boxes at stores and other sites, about 29,320 toys were collected last year, according to the county’s Toys for Tots website.

“It looks like we’ll do better than last year,” Blank said, adding that they’ll have a final tally of donated toys by the middle of next week.

Doug Hurst, Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots campaign coordinator in Westmoreland County, said he was very pleased with the turnout for the various stops, which he said was better than last year.

At Hunker, Katie Miller brought her daughter, Sarah, 3, to donate toys. They were among the few hundred waiting for the mini-cars.

“It’s a small community gathering,” Miller said of the turnout. It was organized by the Hunker Civic Association.

Another youngster who was happy to get on the wagons was Izaac Garland of Ruffsdale, the son of Kelly and Brandon Garland of Ruffs Dale, who donated puzzles and figurines.

“We’ve been coming to see the wagons for a few years,” Kelly Garland.

In Youngwood, Ashley Devitt from Latrobe, brought her 3-year-old son, Tanner.

“He loves trains,” said Devitt, who was with his son’s babysitters, Rich and Mary Grace Wigfield of Greensburg.

Wagon enthusiasts from across the Midwest and South participated in the wagon caravan for a good cause, said John Gonder of Ruffs Dale, organizer of the seven-year local wagon effort.

Some of the operators wore seasonal clothing, including Gary Smith of Hackettstown, NJ, who dressed as an elf and handed out candy to children.

“Every year it gets bigger and bigger. The kids really respond to it,” Gonder said.

The toys should be distributed about a week before Christmas. Registration will be open soon on the jeannette-pa.toysfortots.org website.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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