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Holiday Express spreads seasonal spirit and awareness

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Kyle Martin, Staff Writer

All aboard, all aboard the Holiday Express, a holiday-themed train ride and event that raised money and awareness for local nonprofit Denton County Friends of the Family.

Families and children climbed onto DCTA's A-train on Saturday and rode from the Downtown Denton Transit Center to the “Elves’ Play Land” at Hebron Station in Lewisville, later arriving back in Denton for brunch, crafts, pictures with Santa and more. Denton’s Patterson-Appleton Arts Center was transformed into the “North Pole” for the Holiday Express event.

“We just wanted to do a family-fun event that could also serve as a fundraiser to help us afford services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Toni Johnson-Simpson, executive director of Friends of the Family.

A boy waits for the Holiday Express train ride to depart on Saturday.DRC
A boy waits for the Holiday Express train ride to depart on Saturday.

Friends of the Family offers services and assistance to women and children who are victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse. This was the first such holiday event for the group to organize, and Johnson-Simpson said she was excited about selling out tickets for the train rides. 

The Denton County Transportation Authority was the event’s official transportation sponsor. The A-train departed from Denton for three Holiday Express trips on Saturday.

At the Hebron Station, the midway point of the round trip, passengers were let off at the magical “Elves’ Play Land” for time in a bounce house, a holiday-themed playground and other holiday fun.

Randi Skinner, Friends of the Family's director of marketing and development and one of the event's organizers, said she was happy to see the Holiday Express turn out as a success.

“We’re so excited because this was our first year [for the event],” Skinner said.

She said one of the event's main goals was to spread awareness of Friends of the Family's mission in the hopes of reaching out to those who may need help.

“We know that 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence,” Skinner said. “Awareness events like this allow to ensure that anybody that’s experiencing that knows they can come to Friends of the Family for help.”

The event help from more than 100 volunteers as well as sponsors and donors. Among the sponsors was state Sen. Jane Nelson, who rode the Holiday Express on Saturday with several family members.

“Friends of the Family has been an organization that I’ve supported since its inception,” said Nelson, who was named the event’s “Rudolph Supporter." “They do wonderful things for people in our community, and this is a really fun way to support a good organization.”

Nelson added that she was happy to be able to spend some time with her family “away from Austin for a while.”

Throughout the morning and early afternoon, children danced and played together with their families, dined on eggs, pancakes and bacon, and enjoyed holiday music and crafts.

“It kind of reminds me of when I was like that, when I got that happy about Christmas,” said Callie Smith, a University of North Texas alumnus who volunteered at the event, representing local business Elmer’s Swim School. Smith oversaw a crafty game in which kids had to throw large cotton balls through different-sized holes in a cardboard snowman.

Smith added that though “all the make-believe magic is already burst for me,” she still saw “the twinkle” of the holiday spirit blissfully instilled in the kids who ran around and played her game Saturday morning.

“To think that I could make someone that happy makes my day,” Smith said.

KYLE MARTIN can be reached at and via Twitter at @Kyle_Martin35.