A beacon of Christmas hope

Each year, a group of volunteers cooks a free turkey dinner for
hundreds of people in Cranbrook

The Christmas spirit is alive and well in Cranbrook, and you will find it in droves at Dairy Queen on Christmas Day.

For the past 14 years, one man who wishes to remain anonymous, identifying himself only as Santa’s Head Elf, has arranged a Christmas feast of great magnitude, hosted at Dairy Queen.

Each year, Santa’s Head Elf buys turkeys by the dozen, potatoes, stuffing and gravy, and with the help of volunteers, puts on a free turkey dinner for anybody who needs it – usually between 200 and 400 people throughout the day.

It’s a collaboration between Dairy Queen and Arby’s, businesses located side by side which are closed only on Christmas Day.

Though closed, Dairy Queen is a beacon of light on Christmas Day for travellers, the homeless, the less fortunate, people who don’t have family nearby to celebrate with, shut ins, and the elderly.

“I decided that rather than buy my kids and step kids any presents, I would take that money and fund a turkey dinner for those people who otherwise wouldn’t have a turkey dinner. That’s how we got started,” said Santa’s Head Elf.

The staff of Dairy Queen and Arby’s volunteer their time on Christmas Day – even after many of them have grown up and left town to attend university.

“It’s sort of a special event. Not only do we feed people who need to be fed, we teach a valuable lesson to people about giving rather than taking. The kids who come and help – that’s just their Christmas. They come home and tell their parents, ‘We’re home from university but we can’t have Christmas dinner at 3 in the afternoon. We won’t be done at Dairy Queen until 6.30 and that’s when we’ll have Christmas dinner,’” said Santa’s Head Elf.

“Lots of kids get their eyes open. They aren’t thinking about what they got for Christmas, and then they realize what tough is all about.”

There’s a turkey dinner with all the fixings, dessert donated by Max’s and Dairy Queen, and Christmas carols are sung.

Fernie Chrysler donates a van each year that the elves use to deliver meals all over town to people who can’t make it into Dairy Queen. They work on a schedule that suits the person who needs the meal. For instance, if an elderly person has a home care worker coming at 4 p.m., the meal will arrive at 4 p.m.

As well, the elves will pick up and drop off anybody who needs a ride to the feast.

Santa’s Head Elf said over the years, the Christmas dinner has touched many people.

One large family came in a few years ago, well dressed and sombre. It turned out that a family member was in hospital and gravely ill. They had travelled to Cranbrook from the Columbia Valley to say goodbye on Christmas Day. The elves’ turkey dinner was the only place they could find something to eat.

“He said, ‘My wife’s in the hospital and she’s not going to get out. So all the kids have come to see her this last time. And there’s no place to eat, so we needed a place for a meal.’

“We get lots of little stories like that happen. That makes it all worthwhile.”

Some people spend all day enjoying the warmth and Christmas spirit.

“Some of the homeless people spend all day with us because they’ve got no place else to go. We will give them rides home at the end of the day. My son is one of the drivers and he said, ‘Dad, I just let her off in an alley, that’s where she said she wanted to be let off,’” said Santa’s Head Elf.

One time, a group of 25 people came in.

“They asked if they could sing for their dinner. It was a choir from Swan Lake, Manitoba.”

Lots of people offer to pay for their meal or make a donation. If they do, Santa’s Head Elf takes the money to the Salvation Army or Operation Street Angel.

“It just keeps going on giving,” he said.

While many people offer to volunteer to help run the Christmas dinner, they can’t all be taken on.

“There are angels amongst us. There really is. There are lots of people who want to help and I wish I could take them all on. We can’t; all we can do is bless them for offering,” said Santa’s Head Elf.

The Christmas feast will be held this Christmas Day, Dec. 25, at Dairy Queen on the strip in Cranbrook from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. To ask for a meal to be delivered or a ride to the restaurant, phone 250-417-7099.