HOOD RIVER, Ore. — Mt. Hood Railroad’s first annual run of its “Train to Christmas Town” event was donated to kids facing cancer or other serious illnesses this year.
That was thanks to a partnership with the Children’s Cancer Association, an organization dedicated to creating joy-based programming for pediatric patients and their families, according to their website.
The railroad provided 350 seats for the families who journeyed from Hood River to “The North Pole” and back. Hot cocoa, gift-giving, and a visit from Santa Clause himself were part of the festivities.
This marks the 15th year the railroad held the Christmas-themed event. It normally costs up to $67 for the ride, which lasts an hour and a half.
“We’re really proud to have them and their families aboard the train tonight,” Mt. Hood Railroad General Manager Ron Kaufman told KOIN 6 News.
Though the media was invited immediately prior to departure, the CCA asked the ride itself remain exclusive to the kids and families.
One of those young passengers was Skyla Harper, a 16-year-old who was previously helped by CCA.
Harper was just a seventh-grader when she had to enter chemotherapy for an optic nerve glioma, a type of brain tumor. The treatments continued through eighth grade, she said.
She’s since taken the role of Young Adult Alliance Member with the organization, working with local children’s hospitals in Portland to make teens’ experiences receiving medical care easier. She works behind the scenes at the hospitals by helping to organize activities, including those focused on preparing the teens for what to expect during treatment.
Though Harper is no longer on a chemo regimen, she still has a tumor. However, she said it’s stable and that she’s “doing good.”
Like many of the children on the ride, it was her first time on the trip.
“I’m really excited, I love Christmas,” Harper said.
Another train passenger, 11-year-old Ryker Wistrand said he was floored by the generosity of the railroad service to hold the event at no cost.
“That was just very surprising because sometimes things like this sound like they would cost money but to hear this was free, it was very surprising,” he said.
“I think it’s really cool,” added 14-year-old Sarah Finnie. “I’m very excited to meet Santa — and I mean very excited.”
Harper said her experiences in pediatric care has inspired her to pursue a career in medicine. She’s currently a student at the Center for Advanced Learning in Gresham in their medical program.
“I want to be a nurse for pediatric oncology because of how they helped me when I was sick,” Harper said.
Mt. Hood Railroad’s “Train to Christmas Town” runs from November 16 through December 29 on weekends and select weekdays, for multiple rides per day.
(KOIN contributed to this report)