January 05, 2007

A train full of toys heading to Tecate

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

In Tecate there are families so poor, that their children don’t receive any toys on Christmas nor on Día de Reyes Magos [Three Wise Men Day].

The few pesos that the parents earn go into buying basic products, such as food, housing and clothes. There’s no time to think about playing nor about buying gifts for the children, specially during winter, with the harsh blizzards and storms that hit the county of Tecate.

Rarely will you see a smile on the face of those children, since some of them have left school and have had to start working at an early age to help their parents earn the food they put on the table.

But each year during the past decade, a Chula Vista couple has been able to make Día de Reyes Magos a more memorable day for Tecate’s most needy children.

It is the Christmas Train, a train that travels from Campo to Tecate full of toys for distribution among the poorest children in Tecate the Sunday closest to January 6, the day when the Epiphany is celebrated. This is the day when in southern Mexico children usually receive their gifts.

The couple that started this noble event is Charlie and Margaret Coval, who live in Chula Vista.

This year they’re celebrating the 10 year since the couple wanted to do something for Tecate tikes.

“We truly can’t believe it,” remembers Margaret.

The Covals started this in 1997, when, after the death of their daughter, they gave $20 to each family member to brighten the Christmas of a person. What they decided to do with those first $20 has become a miracle of happiness that pays tribute to their daughter.

“We’d seen the little children, so Charlie told me that we should get them some candy with the $20. That’s how we started with that small idea. We never thought it was going to become something so big,” Margaret said.

After that, the couple began to tell their friends about what they were doing in Tecate. With time, other people wanted to participate and contribute as well. The number of toys began to grow, the number of people got bigger, and the number of smiles became bigger each year.

In 1998, the San Diego Railroad Museum, today known as Pacific Railway Museum, lent one of its tour trains to take the toys from the U.S. to Tecate.

The 6,000 toys that will be distributed among the children this year at Estadio Manuel Ceceña are donated by companies, volunteers and organizations from all over San Diego County, some of them even from Los Angeles.

Also, this year some 400 volunteers will participate in the event’s planning, that will take place on Sunday, January 7 starting at 10 a.m.

“There’s a lot of people eager to help,” Margaret said.

This year the Three Wise Men will be played by Charlie Brown, a representative from Viejas Casino, George Saldamando, a former assistant police chief in the City of San Diego, and Mike Dorsey, a representative from San Diego County’s Department of Environmental Health.

Margaret said that they select the Three Kings as an honor for them, as a recognition for the help they’ve given to the event.

For Ana Maria Ramirez, vice-president of operations for Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (DIF) de Tecate, a government agency that provides social services in the city and that is the link between the Covals and their Christmas Train, this event has become a tradition in Tecate.

“Children expect it every year,” she said. “It’s a tradition for them.”

Ramirez said that it is an honor for the City of Tecate to work with a team of volunteers headed by the Coval Family.

“In Tecate there are a lot of needs and the help they provide for these families is priceless,” Ramirez said.

She added that it doesn’t matter if it’s raining or snowing, the children arrive at the stadium for their toys.

“They come from marginal areas. That might be the only toy they’ll get all year,” she said.

Ramirez said that the Christmas Train is the biggest Reyes Magos event in Tecate.

“The most gratifying thing is seeing those children’s little faces when they receive their gifts,” she said.

For more information about the Christmas Train, visit www.christmastrain.org.

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