Operation Toy Train aims to collect 20,000 toys at stops in New Jersey and New York
Operation Toy Train was up and running again for its 13th year Sunday after taking a pandemic pause in 2020.
Every year, the nonprofit group collects donated toys for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots Foundation. The Marines then distribute those toys to children in the communities they serve.
Operation Toy Train has been collecting toys since 2009 and last year it was forced to pause because of COVID-19 restrictions.
"When you've got a number of volunteers, they're all riding in an enclosed train car for the day, I have to be very cognizant of not having any of my volunteers come down with anything and not spreading anything to the public," said Carolyn Hoffman, of Operation Toy Train.
With rising COVID numbers last year, the operation shifted to online collecting.
"We were still able to get about 19,000 toys last year through donate-a-toy. It just means we didn't have the physical donations that we do this year," Hoffman said.
Event organizers said all volunteers riding the train this year are vaccinated and taking all precautions to ensure everyone's safety.
Families lined the train tracks near the Flanders Fire Station to see the special train pull into their town once again. People in the community said they were glad to see some normalcy restored to a beloved tradition.
"We talk about that all that time, how disappointing it was actually that they couldn't come. Things happen. We're so glad it's back," said resident Darrell Hooper.
"This is a great event. We always have a lot of people coming out rain, shine, no matter what, there's always a group, so it's nice to have everyone back this year," said resident Nancy Bivona.
Between 2009 and 2020, Operation Toy Train has collected over 200,000 toys for Toys for Tots.
The train will be making 25 stops throughout northern New Jersey and New York and will be collecting an estimated 20,000 toys to be donated this holiday season.