Many businesses close on Christmas as employees and customers spend time at home with their families. But one Post Falls restaurant stayed open and invited everyone to come celebrate the holiday.
GW Hunters had a Christmas celebration that included hundreds of gifts, a feast and an appearance by Mr. and Mrs. Claus. And all of it was free.
Owner Dave Swanson said they started planning a week and a half ago. In that time, they collected 300 children’s presents, 400 pounds of turkey and a team of 40 volunteers, consisting of some employees and some of the restaurant’s regulars.
There was no shortage of people taking part in the party; the place was packed.
“It’s been wonderful,” Swanson said. “I just can’t believe how many people are here.”
The restaurant was open to anyone who wanted to come in to eat from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. By noon, about 150 people had come through. Swanson was hoping for at least 300 by the end of the day.
He said many people got in the Christmas spirit and donated money, toys and their time to make the day possible.
“It’s just been amazing to see how people have stepped up,” Swanson said. “As poor as the economy is right now, people are still willing to give of themselves and of their fruits.”
Volunteer Glen Collins, a Hunters regular, said he could have spent Christmas at home relaxing and watching movies, but he’d rather spend time at the restaurant he has been coming to for years.
“We know a lot of people here,” Collins said. “People I don’t see very often we’ve run into today, too. We’re just having a great time.”
Another regular, Renee Zaring, and her boyfriend, Michael Dawson, were on their way to a family gathering when they drove by Hunters and saw that it was open. They decided to stop for a quick cup of coffee.
Little did they know, they stumbled on much more than a cup of joe.
“We had no idea this was going on,” Zaring said. “We were floored.”
They knew right when they walked in it was not going to be the typical restaurant experience.
“They treated everyone like they were family, and they were welcome,” she said. “It really made us feel good.
“We took our Grinch suits off at the door.”
And she said they did not skimp on the food – traditional Christmas fixings of ham, turkey, potatoes and pie – all of it free.
“It was excellent,” she said, “As good as my mother’s, but don’t tell her that.”
Zaring and Dawson were so pleased with the experience they made a donation for next year.
“We just think it’s crazy that he’s doing this,” Zaring said. “It’s fantastic.”
Swanson said that despite the donations, his business will lose some money from staying in operation for the day.
“It’s definitely going to cost us some money, but that’s not the reason we’re doing it,” he said. “It’s a partnership with the community. That’s huge. That’s way more than money.”
He said whatever food is left over will be donated to local food banks. This was the first year the restaurant had free meals on Christmas, he said, and the success of the celebration inspired him to do it next year on Thanksgiving and Christmas. He also is planning a coat drive in January.
“It makes you really see people for the good in them even more,” he said. “It’s been a very eye-opening experience.”