A train leaves Hoboken en route to Newark, picking up students from different schools along the way. They’re all ready to meet Santa Claus and, of course, get some presents.
Railmen for Children is the organization behind the group of conductors, engineers and other NJ Transit employees who decided in 1983 to give back with the extra money they collected on the train.
All are volunteers, including a retiree who helped found the organization and who also served as one of its first Santas.
“We wanted to take the kids that weren’t going to have a Christmas a ride from Hoboken. We started and now we get kids from all over,” said Joseph Phalon, co-founder and retired NJ Transit conductor.
The 2017 Santa Claus is actually his son, who says many of the 300 plus students on the trip have special needs or are from underprivileged homes.
“We buy them whatever they want. They write down a list and we go out and by all the stuff for them, wrap everything, put it on the train,” said Michael Phalon, Santa Claus and NJ Transit conductor, who has participated in the special event for the past 29 years.
Moving from car to car, you meet students and teachers from different schools.
“They come from all over Essex County and they’re in a program called Transition Center. We do community-based instruction so they’re out, they’re learning how to travel, they have bank accounts,” said Marianna Caballo, teacher at Essex Regional School in Newark.
Jilah, one student on the train, said, “For Christmas, I want new clothes and an Amazon gift card.”
Another student, Monique, said, “I have fun and I make my teacher proud.”
“It makes my heart melt. I love these kids, and like I said, I’ve been working with them for a while and they need us as much as I need them in my life. So, it was good to be able to celebrate the holidays with them,” said Michelle Brewer, also a teacher at Essex Regional School.
As the presents are handed out, noise and excitement fill the air.
One little Islander fan, Matt, was happy to get some hockey cards.
He said, “I don’t celebrate Christmas, I celebrate Hannukah, but I got a gift so it’s good.”
Riding through New Jersey and spreading some holiday cheer.