Help for the holidays

Hundreds bundled up and braved freezing temperatures Wednesday night as they gathered in downtown Minot at the Main Street rail crossing. At 7:30 p.m., a blast from the horn of this year’s Canadian Pacific Railway Holiday Train elicited excited cheers as the festively decorated boxcars crawled to a stop.

Bringing holiday cheer to 150 communities along the CP rail line every year since 1999, this marked the holiday train’s twelfth stop into Minot. On board to entertain were The Claytones and musician Willy Porter, who performed rocked-up renditions of Christmas favorites in addition to some of the band’s original pieces.

In addition to providing free entertainment, the holiday train acts as a traveling fundraiser for local food banks. Since its start, the event has drawn in over 3 million pounds of donated food and $7.4 million, all of which restock shelves in the food banks of that locality.

Volunteers with Community Action Partnerships and the Minot Area Homeless Coalition parked a freight truck nearby, to which many attendees of the outdoor concert brought bags of nonperishable food items. Already half-filled by the time the concert began, the food will go to Minot’s various food banks and pantries.

“They all need this help that’s coming,” said Mac McLeod, executive director for the MAHC. A director of one of the pantries he works with had estimated a 35 percent increase in usage over last year. Another pantry was said to have served around 5,000 people this year.

“The worst thing in the world is to have to turn someone away,” he said. But with what they had collected, he had a feeling that would not be an issue this year.

MAHC had also parked a refreshment cart next to the truck, distributing cocoa and other refreshments and receiving donations. Frigid outside as it was, the stand saw a lot of use.

In addition to the freewill collection at the stand, representatives of the railroad presented an oversized check to McLeod on behalf of MAHC for $6,000.

“It was a surprise,” he said afterwards. “I’m lost for words, and I’m never lost for words. They got us good.” The money will help fund the organization’s various services, which range from rent and utilities assistance and emergency aid.

“Tonight I’m probably the happiest person in Minot.”