How a Train Called Little Obie Rescued Christmas for the Blue Island Corps
Lieutenant Linda Acosta was on the verge of panicking. Christmas was a month away. Parents and grandparents of 350 children in her neighborhood had signed up to participate in The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program, which provides presents to children who wouldn’t receive them otherwise. And so far, only 70 people had signed up to provide gifts. There were going to be a lot of disappointed kids on Christmas morning if something didn’t happen.
It should come as no surprise that help with Christmas presents came from the north – though this time not quite as far as the North Pole. Instead, it was the generous staff at a Canadian company that saved the day. And their gifts arrived not in a sleigh, but a cute, three-car train called Little Obie.
Saving the Day
Lieutenant Linda, corps officer at The Salvation Army Blue Island Corps Community Center, had reached out to people who’d bought presents for the program in the past. Many were unable to give this Christmas due to the pandemic. Many needed help themselves this year. She asked local companies to donate, but many couldn’t give either.
At the same time, less than ten miles away, Eric Graf of the Canadian National Railway, whose U.S. headquarters is in Homewood, Illinois, was looking for opportunities for he and his coworkers to give back this holiday season. They’d volunteered with and donated to The Salvation Army in the past, so he tried them again.
Thankfully, Lieutenant Linda and Eric’s requests crossed paths. Soon, Lieutenant Linda received word that employees at the Canadian National Railway were going to provide gifts for 225 children. “They seriously saved the day,” she said. But the happy surprises weren’t done yet.
Lieutenant Linda and her staff started bagging up donated gifts for all the parents and grandparents to pick up, quickly realizing they weren’t going to have enough. Two days later, a train full of toys pulled into their parking lot. The train, Little Obie, is a six-foot high scale model of a Canadian National locomotive. It normally appears at schools and parades to promote train safety. On this day, its mission was to help the Blue Island corps Rescue Christmas.
“It was a really neat surprise,” Lieutenant Linda said. They knew these gifts were coming, just not with such fanfare. “Seeing that brought a lot of encouragement and hope to the staff.” These staff members know firsthand the needs in their neighborhood – the many single-parents households with four or five kids, a set of grandparents who took in five grandchildren to raise after a death in the family, the family with three kids who lost their dad this year. All doing their best to make ends meet. All in need of a little help this Christmas.
Eric Graf, the man in charge of Little Obie, says his team has been contributing to the Angel Tree program for 10 to 15 years now. “But we realized this was a rough year and were happy to go a little stronger this year,” he said.
Above and Beyond
“Stronger” is an understatement. When the train pulled into the Blue Island corps parking lot, it carried 1,100 gifts – all provided by just 245 employees. The Canadian National Railway is also making a $12,500 monetary donation. Eric said he, too, was surprised at how much they gave. “Little Obie was full of gifts,” he said. “It took about ten people to unload all the presents.”
“I don’t know how we would have handled this Christmas without their help,” Lieutenant Linda said. Like nearly all the corps in the Metropolitan Division, they have received exponentially more requests for help this year due to the pandemic.
Eric explained that this kind of generosity is in keeping with Little Obie’s mission. “He teaches safety and promotes good,” he said. This year, The Salvation Army – and a lot of kids in the Blue Island community – are grateful he arrived just in time to Do the Most Good.
Rescue Christmas for Our Neighbors in Need
For tax purposes: The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division EIN is 36-2167910.