ROXBURY, N.J. _ When the Toys for Tots Train rolls into Roxbury this weekend, its obvious goal will be to gather toys for needy children. However, the event also presents a less apparent, but maybe more sublime, gift-giving opportunity.
As donated toys fill the waiting boxcar, as parents snap photos of kids with Santa and as neighbors chat about sale prices at Kohl's, some will take a minute to acknowledge the attending U.S. Marines. Those handshakes are among the scenes that stay in the memory of John Sobotka, coordinator of the Toys for Tots Train
Marines, not known for wearing their hearts on their sleeves, have confided in Sobotka. They've told him about being deeply moved when strangers walk over to thank them and shake their hands. "This is sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves out of Picatinny Arsenal," Sobotka said. "They're all reserves and they all live in this area. Many have been deployed two or three times over the years. For the Marines who were in battle, we're almost mainstreaming them back into society. We're welcoming them back."
Then there are the grateful parents. Sobotka said he gets to meet them now and then: People who were down on their luck but managed to give their children gifts thanks to the Toys for Tots Train. Sometimes they come back, after getting back on their feet, to tell the Toys for Tots Train crew that their effort made a difference.
"When you ride the train there are so many little substories that happen, almost like Hallmark Moments," he said.
Sabotka, a 61-year-old Hopatcong Borough resident, is a locomotive engineer with Norfolk Southern Railway. He's been a railroad man for 41 years and he's been involved in the Toys for Tots Train for six. It's rewarding, but it's not a particularly easy endeavor.
"I have to coordinate five railroads and 18 communities to put this together," said Sobotka. The trains,stop at more than 15 places where people can donate unwrapped, new toys, board cabooses to see Santa and meet Marines.
The train's first stop on Saturday will be 9 a.m. at Potbelly's Riverside Cafe in Rockaway. After visiting Sak's Paint & Wallpaper in Dover at 10 a.m., it pulls into Morris Marine in Kenvil at 11:30 a.m., stops at Sleepy's in Ledgewood at 12:15 p.m. and chugs down to Flanders for a stay at the Flanders Fire Company No. ! firehouse startig at 1:30 p.m.
On Sunday, the train will remain parked from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Kuiken Brothers facility on Route 10 in Succasunna.
The first phase of the 2-weekend-long event took place Dec. 6 and Dec. 7 with seven train stops on the New York, Susquehana & Western line between Rochelle Park and Butler on the Saturday and an excursion over Middletown & New Jersey tracks between Warwick, N.Y. and Walden, N.Y. on Sunday. The effort yielded more than 9,500 toys.