The Inside Track on Grapevine’s Beloved North Pole Express
1 Dec 2023
Here in the Christmas Capital of Texas, there’s no shortage of exciting things to do around the holidays. The official tally of seasonal events is 1,400 between late November and New Year’s Day. But the actual total is likely higher; our Convention and Visitor’s Bureau readily admits that they settled on a round number that sounded nice… because “fifteen hundred and fifty-three events in forty days” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Out of all those events and attractions, one is famous for its enduring appeal and instantaneous sell-outs: the North Pole Express, a thematic train that takes families on a round-trip to Santa’s Workshop using the Grapevine Vintage Railroad. Starting right after Thanksgiving and running right up until December 23, this family-friendly event has become a staple of household traditions for hundreds of North Texans. But it also serves a special purpose that even diehard fans may not be aware of.
The North Pole Express, it turns out, plays a role in welcoming new families to Grapevine.
Community Outreach Along Mustang Drive
To understand the value of a single vintage railroad ride for incoming residents, one has to understand the Community Outreach Center. An extension of the Grapevine Police Department, the Outreach Center provides a collection of programs, resources, and services targeted toward a specific group of residents who were once disconnected from the City.
Just South of Mustang-Panther stadium, lined up along Mustang Road, a series of multifamily units and mobile homes offered Grapevine PD a unique opportunity. Because of the high population density, the area was an efficient launch pad for community policing strategies that make up the core approach to crime prevention here in Grapevine. First, officers partnered with management at one of the nearby apartment complexes. Soon, nearby schools joined in. It wasn’t long before GPD staff noticed a disproportionate number of kids walking home from school and decided to create a safe space for students to stop and hang out after school.
“Originally, it was created to foster relationships between the community and the officers,” said Haydee Young, who oversees the Community Outreach Center. “We’ve kind of evolved into just a community hub.
“We had two after-school sites that we were working, providing a safe place the kids could go to after school if their parents were working either one long day or multiple jobs and couldn’t come home after school. We noticed that a lot of our families had older siblings that were watching their siblings, so we wanted to give kids a space to be themselves… But on top of that, we’ve been able to grow the amount of outreach that we do in the community by partnering with local agencies to provide meals during the week and groceries; partnering with churches to offer fruits and vegetables on the weekends. We also have some community groups that come out and use the outreach center to grow their education and their learning, and then we’ve also grown the amount of events that we offer for the community, to increase their interactions with officers on the whole, as well.”
Today, the Outreach Center boasts a community playground, a sports court, and a special enrichment program called V.A.S.T. – Valuable After School Time. But those are just the ongoing services. Staff at the Outreach Center also provide seasonal support in the form of programs like Santa Cops, Feed Our Kids (in partnership with GRACE Grapevine), and monthly family game nights.
Getting Everyone On Board for Christmas
With so many different programs and services to offer, it can be difficult to explain the exact value of the Outreach Center to families as they move into the area. Young and her team have cultivated a deep-rooted trust within the neighborhood, but even well-informed residents might struggle to understand or explain all of the intricate details to their peers. Especially when language and cultural barriers stand in the way.
“I also work very closely with GCISD, and this year for the back-to-school fair, they said that as a district they saw an increase of over 500 kids into the school setting – in mostly the area that [the Community Outreach Center serves] – that are new to not just the US, but to Texas and to Grapevine. So I would say yes, we do have quite a few newer families that come in,” Young said. “I feel like we’ve built a really good community because you’ll meet someone and they’ll say ‘oh, so so-and-so told me about this…’ it’s working because the community is kind of helping each other. I would say that the Mustang area – and then Scribner and Shady Brook – are kind of the areas where newer families are coming, or where families that have greater needs [tend to live].”
To help build relationships with those families, staff at the Outreach Center make use of a valuable resource: special access to the North Pole Express. Before the Grapevine Vintage Railroad can host its official excursions, staff and actors invite local families on board for a sort of dress rehearsal. The event usually takes place on the Monday before Thanksgiving, with Mayor William D Tate presiding over the pardoning of a local turkey before inviting local families to help pack up the last of the City’s fall decorations to make way for Christmas. While there’s always an assortment of media and bystanders present, the bulk of the crowd is made up of families with children enrolled in VAST.
“The North Pole tickets really do give us an opportunity to meet some of the newer families that have come into Grapevine, that maybe don’t know Santa Cops. Or don’t know us very well,” Young said. “It’s a train ride on Main Street, so it’s something kind of different. They don’t have to give all this information about who they are, where they live, information about their kids. The things we need for their [Santa Cops] application so that we know what to provide them. So North Pole Express is a good soft welcoming to us at the Outreach Center.”
Tickets are assigned by lottery due to capacity restrictions, but every family in the area has a chance to climb aboard. And they all qualify for holiday assistance.
Christmas Morning: A Uniform Experience
The winter months can be especially difficult for economically disadvantaged families. Heating and electric bills rise, working hours become more unpredictable, and parents sometimes find themselves having to choose between basic necessities and gifts that help their children experience the same holiday wonder as their classmates. To simplify those calculations, GPD launched a community-led program called Santa Cops.
“We serve at least 1,200-1,400 kids every year by providing them at least two toys, a stuffed toy, and maybe a stocking stuffer depending on what our donations look like that year,” Young said. “It’s a time for officers to be able to give those gifts to the families, and then the parents can give those gifts to the children. They can say it’s from Santa Cops or from the Grapevine Police Department, or they can say it’s from them. That’s up to them. We just want to be able to make sure that every kid has something to open on Christmas Morning.”
Here in the Christmas Capital of Texas, every student needs to have a similar experience during the winter break. No Grapevine resident should ever feel disconnected from the holiday magic, especially since they all play a role in creating the atmosphere that earned us the title to begin with! In that regard, programs like Santa Cops and the special community-oriented edition of the North Pole Express are vital resources; solidifying the spirit of community that makes Grapevine such a fantastic place to do business.
If you’re looking to join us here in the Christmas Capital, the Economic Development Department is your next stop! You can learn more about our community by exploring the community profile and available property tools here at choosegrapevinetx.com. Or, for more details on this groundbreaking partnership and others like it, check out the ‘Growing Grapevine’ podcast and eNewsletter.