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In New Sharon, a Love Train Puts Positivity Front and Center

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NEW SHARON, Iowa - Just call Ralphi Munson the captain of the Love Train.

"Usually it's the parents who are the ones who get excited because they rode it when they were little," she said. "Now their kids can ride it. It's like carrying on a tradition."

Munson's father built this trolley 28 years ago; he drove kids around New Sharon in it daily. Now passed, Munson wants to continue his legacy by passing the love along.

"My dad did so much for our community," she said.

The rules of the Love Train are simple: "Wave and Behave." You even get a Tootsie Roll if you comply.

"I've rode it 100 times," a local boy said.

But there's a lot more to it than just the physical train. Munson's desire to continue her father's legacy in New Sharon has started a movement.

"We've had a lot of tragedies in our community," she said. "We've lost five young boys out of school recently, and it just made people come together and realize there are bigger problems than their own in this world."

Three of those boys lost in the community happened just last year in a tragic accident. In the midst of deep sorrow, though, Munson hopes to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Two years ago, she started her "Love Train" campaign - by simply posting to Facebook.

"So, I thought we could help pay their water bill," she said. "So I just put it out on Facebook, that if anybody wanted to donate a dollar."

Nearly $1,800 later, she was able to help 24 families in town with bills around the holidays. The next year, without even posting to Facebook at all, she received nearly $1,500 and helped 17 families.

"People just want to give," she said.

And the money is coming from all over.

"So when I get checks from Colorado, and Virginia, and Indiana - they don't even know anybody that the money is going to, they just want to help," she said. "It just brings out the best in people."

Munson is too humble to let any of this be about her - but others in town are quick to give her credit for starting a wave of positivity during a dark time.

"There was a time where we had some trouble and we didn't ask for help, but she could see it. Without even saying a word, she took care of it. And that's saying something," said her neighbor, Mason Battistello. "I can't explain it, it's like, who jumps out of their way to help somebody like that. You don't see that anymore."

Yet, it's happening right here, in New Sharon.

"There's something about a small town, it's just something very special and unique," Munson said. "And every neighborhood can do that for their own."

Munson would like to see a Love Train in every community. Until then, she'll keep making ripples from her little street in small-town Iowa.

"It's not about politics, it's not about making money," she said. "It is just about helping the guy next door."