Playful train provides a spark

Hundreds of people packed the Glendale and Burbank Metrolink station platforms Saturday for the first stops of Metrolink's Holiday Toy Express — a 450-foot train decked out in sparkling lights and festive holiday ornaments.

Many in attendance came clutching an unwrapped toy for the event, where the agency partners with member cities to collect toys to distribute to needy local families.

"It's definitely an important event for the agency," said Sherita Coffelt, a Metrolink spokeswoman. "Planning starts several months in advance."

Glendale and Burbank fire officials said the annual event, in its 14th year, helps them meet their goals to collect thousands of toys for the Spark of Love toy drive, which runs through Dec. 24.

With demand for toys higher than ever amid the continued recession, fire officials said they were hoping the event would provide an extra boost.

"It's been a rough year for these people. A lot of people that used to give aren't giving, and some of them are the ones asking now," said Burbank Fire Engineer John Freeborn. "We go on the calls and we see these families and the people that are hurting; it's just an opportunity to give something back to the community."

In the hours surrounding the train's arrival, both stations were filled with local firefighters and holiday festivities, including free hot chocolate, local performance groups, elves, and arts and crafts.

The toys collected in Glendale for the Spark of Love campaign will be distributed to a variety of local agencies, including local Head Start schools, PATH Achieve Glendale and Salvation Army Glendale, among others, said Tanya Gregorian, Glendale fire public education coordinator.

Gregorian said she is hoping to collect at least 3,500 toys to match the amount given out last year.

"My goal every year is to give more than I did the year before," Gregorian said. "Clearly the need is greater now. Every year the need becomes greater."

In Burbank, Spark of Love toys are distributed to the Burbank Temporary Aid Center and Family Service Agency of Burbank to give out to local families, Freeborn said.

Through Dec. 24, Spark of Love donations can also be dropped at any Glendale CVS Store or any Glendale or Burbank fire station.

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