April Booth, 10, reached into her parka pocket.
It was a warm early afternoon on Monday. With temperatures reaching 60, it was too warm, really, for parkas.
The CP Rail Holiday Train was due in an hour or so, and April and other Rusch Elementary School pupils were lined up behind a table marked with a sign, “Food Donations.”
“Mine’s still in my pocket,” April said, as she turned the pocket inside out and pulled out her gift — a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup.
One of the key reasons why CP Rail sends the decorated Holiday Train into railroad communities like Portage is to encourage donations to local food pantries.
Charles Bradley said they succeeded admirably this year.
The Portage Food Pantry and the St. Vincent de Paul Society each got a share of the non-perishable food that Holiday Train attendees donated.
Bradley, a longtime Portage Food Pantry volunteer, said the Portage Food Pantry’s share came to about 325 pounds of food — a respectable showing for a daytime weekday Holiday Train appearance. The Portage Food Pantry also got a $4,500 donation from CP Rail.
Officials of St. Vincent de Paul could not be reached for comment. St. Vincent de Paul hosts the Second Harvest Food Bank mobile food pantry from 11 a.m. to noon the second Monday of each month at 1311 W. Wisconsin St.
At this year’s Holiday Train, St. Vincent de Paul got the cash donations that spectators deposited in a special slotted box.
Bradley noted that very few of the donated food items were beyond their expiration date. Sometimes with food drives, he said, about a third of the donations are too old to eat, but that wasn’t the case Monday.
“And we got a good variety,” he said.
In addition to cans of soup, the donations also included dry cereals, boxed macaroni and cheese, pasta, canned pasta sauce and canned meat and fish.
As is typical with many food pantries, the Portage Food Pantry gets half of its annual food donations in November and December. In some cases, the donations come in faster than volunteers can shelve or distribute them.
For about a year, the Portage Food Pantry has been housed in a converted pump house in Lincoln Park, at 405 E. Howard St. Business hours are 11 a.m. to noon Mondays and Wednesdays and 5 to 6 p.m. Thursdays, excluding holidays.
Bradley praised the spirit of cooperation between the two food pantries that serve Portage, and the generosity of Portage’s people.
“I think the people of Portage, in the main, are very helpful to people in need,” he said.