Railroad Santa’s toy bag is bursting at the seams this year as UPVETS marked its annual Toys for Tots fundraising drive in the Houston area with another record year collecting toys and cash for children in need.
In what has become an annual tradition, the Houston/Gulf Coast chapter of UPVETS collected a little over $100,000 and donated approximately 30,000 toys for the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. UPVETS is a Union Pacific employee resource group for military veterans and interested employees.
In comparison, when UPVETS started this annual drive five years ago, the chapter collected $22,000 and donated 1,700 toys.
“We’re getting bigger and bigger each year, and the people in Houston – and at the North Pole – are taking notice,” said Joe Mikulski, a Union Pacific locomotive engineer and president of the Houston/Gulf Coast UPVETS. “We hear Mr. Kringle is considering significant capital investments in Houston to accommodate our growing toy drive, including a bigger bag and sleigh.”
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Andrey Drozdov, general manager-Transportation in Houston, heard the same rumor.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the UPVETS and their work ensuring Houston children wake up to presents under the tree,” Drozdov said. “The UPVETS annual drive represents the true spirit of Christmas, and the best of Union Pacific’s commitment to community.”
The chapter marked its yearlong labor of love with a festive train trip across Houston Dec. 2 featuring several passenger cars from the railroad’s Heritage Fleet and Union Pacific’s Spirit Locomotive No. 1943, a locomotive honoring the U.S. Armed Forces, and Union Pacific’s We Are One Locomotive No. 1979, which honors Union Pacific’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Railroad Santa in his finest red overalls and U.S. Marines in their crisp dress uniforms came along for the ride held – in part – to honor the growing number of businesses and individuals sponsoring the annual fund drive.
The first UPVETS Toys for Tot campaign had seven sponsors. This year, it has 30.
“We continue to grow this program each year thanks to our sponsors and the tremendous support we receive from Union Pacific’s Transportation team in the Southern Region,” Mikulski said.
The chapter will deliver the toys on Dec. 9 to the George R. Brown Convention Center, in partnership with the Houston Children’s Charity, which will collaborate with the U.S. Marines to distribute them to qualifying families.