MUSCATINE — As light snow fell over Muscatine, hundreds of people welcomed the festive glow of 14 train cars that lit up Riverside Park.
Smiling, Eisley Ulch, 8, said the lights of the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train were "Christmasy." With candy cane in hand, the student at McKinley Elementary said the train and the event that accompanied it were "amazing."
The train made its first stop in Iowa Sunday night marking the 20th year of the holiday train. Not just a festive sight, the train traveling across the U.S. and Canada has a mission to bring awareness of community food banks and pantries and allow time for donations of food and money to be made during the stop. All donations made at the event stay in the community.
"It's a big help for those in need," said volunteer Osmund Malcolm of donations made to the Salvation Army vehicle parked near the train. During the event, the floor of the vehicle was filled with canned goods and other non-perishables. The donations from Sunday, along with donations made recently from other events will help the organization put together food baskets for people who have signed up to receive assistance. Recipients will also receive gifts starting Dec. 17 along with the baskets ahead of the holiday.
"It's what we do," Malcolm said of the organization. The vehicle was set up to receive donations at 5:30 p.m., prior to the train's 7:45 p.m. arrival and quickly ran out of the hot chocolate volunteers were serving.
"It's a good way to get ready for Christmas," said Kira Reed, who attended with Ulch outside of the Merrill Hotel.
"This is the first time we came downtown because the Merrill had the event," Reed said, "so we could be warm while we wait."
Cookies and hot chocolate were served at the hotel where people could get their picture taken with Santa. Representatives from the hotel also worked with Neihart Tour and Travel to bring a group of 50 visitors from Braddyville, in the southwest corner of the state, to see the train and the new hotel.
Leanna Resetich, a sales manager at the hotel said many people visited the hotel to see Santa and she had never seen the lobby so full before.
"We love to get people in here just to see it," she said.
"Ohs", "ahs" and "wows" came from the crowd that gathered around both sides of the train stopped along River Drive between Chestnut and Sycamore streets. The Trews played holiday favorites from a rail car including "Run, Run, Rudolph," the theme from "Christmas Vacation" and some of their own music. Rock and blues musician Willy Porter also performed.
"Merry Christmas, Muscatine," Mayor Diana Broderson said as she welcomed everyone to the event. Following her wishes for "health and happiness" for residents this holiday season, Salvation Army Lieutenant Cristian Lopez accepted a $4,000 donation from Canadian Pacific Engineer Chad Johnson.
Since the train first left the station in 1999, the holiday event has raised more than $14.5 million in Canadian dollars and 4.3 million pounds of food.
The train will stop Monday in Ottumwa where it will make two stops in Missouri before stopping Tuesday in Davenport on its way north to Minnesota.
"It's definitely a jump start to Christmas," Reed said.