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Employees Show Their Holiday Spirit - By The Busload

In the days leading up to Christmas, SEPTA headquarters at 1234 Market Street became Santa's North Pole Workshop - South Division, overflowing with thousands of toys donated by SEPTA employees as part of the Authority's 30th annual Yuletoy Drive for deserving children across SEPTA's service area. From bicycles and baby dolls to guitars and games, employees throughout the Authority filled bright red drums with approximately 4,000 gifts, making it one of the best Yuletoys ever.

While Santa has a year to prepare for his big delivery, the entire Yuletoy Drive, from collection to distribution, happens in just one month's time, thanks to the work of Carol Looby, assistant secretary to the SEPTA Board. For more than 20 years, from Thanksgiving to Christmas in addition to her daily job duties, Looby has taken on the challenge of organizing the toy drive. But for Looby, each Yuletoy is a welcome event. "In many cases, the toys we give these children will be the only gifts they receive," she said. "To think that one toy could put a smile on a child's face makes it worth the effort."

Just like Santa, Looby has a special team of "elves" to assist with toy packing and delivery. "Yuletoy wouldn't exist without the coordinators and others behind the scenes," said Looby. "From the print shop staff making the signs to operators dropping off and picking up barrels at 70 locations through the Authority and our on-site coordinators who make sure their colleagues help, the toy drive's success is work of many dedicated SEPTA employees." In fact, Looby points out that some are so passionate about the toy drive that they help out on their vacation days and even after they've retired from the Authority.

Among those working to make the season brighter for local children was bus operator Dana Gray who collected more than $1,300 from her co-workers at the Frankford Depot. "I never woke up on Christmas without something under the tree," said Gray, who used the contributions to purchase more than 100 gifts for the drive. "I can't imagine what it would be like to not have Christmas presents."

In addition to the SEPTA "family," Looby enlists her husband Fran McGee (who works in SEPTA's service planning department) and 10-year old daughter Ciara to help with Yuletoy. "Every year, we take employees' monetary donations to a toy store the night before the distribution to purchase gifts," said Looby. This year, the family filled five carts in about 45 minutes. "Ciara loves hand-picking gifts for the children and the experience has helped her understand the true spirit of the season."

Since three days before Christmas is crunch time for Santa, after the toys were purchased, collected, sorted and packaged, his SEPTA helpers also stepped in to make sure their gifts were delivered to the children in time for the holiday. But these elves didn't travel in a sled pulled by a red-nosed reindeer - they hit the road SEPTA-style in a hybrid bus, driven by the appropriately-named Michele Noel, who jokingly claims she's "the reason for the season." Noel, a 22-year SEPTA bus operator, first drove the Yuletoy bus six years ago and "fell in love" with the program. "If it doesn't come from the heart, it isn't real," she said.

With gifts packed to the roof, Santa's helpers, SEPTA General Manager Joe Casey and Transport Workers Union Local 234 President John Johnson on board, Noel guided the SEPTA sleigh throughout the Philadelphia region, dropping off toys to some of the 10 organizations that benefit from the event. First on the list was the John F. Kennedy Community Mental Health/Mental Retardation Center in Center City, where the group was welcomed by Joel Esterman, the Center's director. Esterman, whose organization has received Yuletoy gifts for more than 20 years, is always surprised by the generosity of SEPTA employees. "Every year is better than the last," he said. "The gifts from SEPTA are a wonderful treat. Our kids know that someone cares about them."

Looby wanted to recognize all those whose extra assistance helped make the 30th anniversary of Yuletoy a success: Ray Alwine, Pete Berardi, Nancy Berman, Dickie Bizzle, Marlene Broaddus, Kevin Derham, Maxine Dobbins, Joe Dunn, Carl Greer, Richard Hardy, Trayia Hill, Joseph Mahar, Tyrone Moreland, Theresa Poole, John Rowan, Aaron Shepard, Al Smith and Abe Tisdale.

"The groups we help are most appreciative of everything we give them," said Looby. "Being able to share our good fortune with those in need is truly a Christmas blessing."

Carol Looby, TWU Local 234 President John Johnson, SEPTA General Manager Joseph M. Casey and the SEPTA elves delivered more than 4,000 toys to local children in need.

Employees helped make the holidays brighter for Philadelphia area children by donating more than 4,000 toys to the 30th Yuletoy Drive.

Once overflowing, these bins held the toys collected at 70 sites throughout the Authority.

Trayia Hill loads the "SEPTA sleigh," a hybrid bus, with toys.

As captured on WPVI-TV, GM Joseph M. Casey and TWU Local 234 President John Johnson deliver toys to the John F. Kennedy Community Mental Health/Mental Retardation Center.