Tanya Sawchuk and her daughter Mackenzie hand out candy canes at the West Coast Express Santa Train.                                 (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

Tanya Sawchuk and her daughter Mackenzie hand out candy canes at the West Coast Express Santa Train. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

Learning the spirit of giving

Santa Train roll through Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows again on Saturday

The West Coast Express Santa Train is running again this Saturday, and the Sawchuks will be at Port Haney Station, collecting gifts for local kids as they have for the past 23 years.

Tanya and Bill Sawchuk first got involved when her son was still in a stroller.

“They’ve been coming down with us ever since they were little, and now they’re adults and they do this to help the Christmas Hamper Society of Ridge Meadows,” said Tanya.

Her son Chase is now 23, and daughter Mackenzie is 21.

They also brought their friends when they were school-aged, and now many of those friends still get on board as Santa Train volunteers. They make it a festive scene, still handing out candy canes and caroling.

Tanya said the involvement with the Christmas hamper gave her kids a “fabulous” lesson at an early age.

“It teaches them how lucky they are, and it’s a good thing for them to learn that.”

Mackenzie did her own charity work recently. She and friends collected some 18 garbage bags full of clothes, blankets, shoes and jackets.

Then they made 150 ham and cheese sandwiches, and went to a corner near Pigeon Park in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side at the end of November, and handed out all the clothes and food.

Chase volunteered in Mexico for two weeks, working with an organization that was building housing for the homeless.

“So it’s really taught them to give,” said Tanya. “They have been good that way – always helping out others.”

Last Saturday, the family collected 323 toys and $382.

“It’s a really great fundraiser,” Tanya said of the Santa Train.

Those will all be sorted by volunteers and collected for children whose parents need a little help providing the merriest possible Christmas.

Last year, the hamper gave Christmas presents and dinner to 447 local families, and 668 children.

Lorraine Bates, chair of the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Christmas Hamper Society, said Tanya Sawchuk is a go-to volunteer. She not only collects at the station, but also helps with wrapping hundreds of gifts.

Then last weekend, when the society needed someone to work on fundraising during the Strip-a-thon event that raised almost $30,000 for the Christmas hamper, Tanya and her friend volunteered to sell 50/50 tickets to the Caddyshack patrons for the event.

“She’s a going concern,” said Bates.

She understands why people like the Sawchucks get so active in their volunteerism.

“The same reason we all do – it’s the warm fuzzies. And if you don’t understand what that means, then you’ve never volunteered.”

This Saturday, the hamper will do gifts for adults, and kids get to “shop” the tables for gifts for their parents, browsing through gift cards for Starbucks, tools, books and pajamas.

“They come out, and the smiles on those kids’ faces is priceless,” said Bates.

The Santa Trains departs Mission City at 10 a.m., and stops at all WCE stations along the way. Once in Vancouver, riders can enjoy a day of holiday sights and sounds, such as the Vancouver Christmas Market, before returning home from Waterfront Station at 4 p.m.

Riders get a free WCE ticket in exchange for a new, unwrapped toy donation (worth about the same as a $23.25 WCE pass) for their community toy bureau.

The West Coast Express North Pole Station (at Waterfront) will be open as of 2:45 p.m. for holiday activities and a photo opportunity with Santa. Dairyland provides a complimentary taste of egg nog while riders wait for their trip home.

The train leaves Port Haney at 10:19 a.m., Maple Meadows at 10:25 a.m. and Pitt Meadows at 10:29 a.m.

On the way back, the train arrives in Pitt Meadows at 4:44 p.m., Maple Meadows at 4:48 p.m., Port Haney at 4:54 p.m. and the end of the line at Mission at 5:15 p.m.