Christmas Day around 11 a.m. Santa Claus and Chris Deitz, city director at Spokane nonprofit Big Table, were delivering $20 bills to workers at Jack in the Box on West Northwest Boulevard.
“The reality behind it is for folks who work in fast food, their name just shows up on the schedule and they’d like to be home and they’re working,” Deitz said.
The Holiday Blitz – when Santa and volunteers deliver candy canes, $20 bills and links to Big Table’s website at big-table.com to get fast-food workers connected to more resources – is now a seven-year-long tradition for the organization. This year between Christmas Eve and Christmas, deliveries came to workers at 30 fast-food restaurants in Spokane.
Deitz said that during the pandemic, need is greater than ever. Big Table has helped Spokanites in the service industry pay rent and utilities or get help with addictions and mental health problems.
A month of missed work doesn’t mean one month of struggle, he said. As people get behind on paying their rent, the financial stress snowballs and can lead to months of strife, he said.
“People are living paycheck to paycheck,” Deitz said. “They could be a $500 or $1,000 bill away from not being able to meet their own most basic needs.”
For many, losing work also comes with a loss of identity, he said.
“A lot of hospitality employees, this is who they are. You know, ‘I’m a chef, I’m a cook. I have deep roots, so it’s not just a loss of employment, you’ve taken away who I am as an individual,’ ” Deitz said. “It’s just brutal.”
That’s why, despite many fast-food restaurants’ dining areas being closed, Santa and volunteers – or “my helpers,” as Santa calls them – still came out, sometimes going through drive-thrus to deliver the gifts.
Fast-food employees working on Christmas “are all on the nice list, automatically,” Santa said.
“I’d like Santa Claus to make sure people look carefully at the people that serve them because they’re our neighbors and could use a word of encouragement, a prayer or a twenty,” Santa said. “If we really look at them and see who they are, we’ll see they’re our neighbors.”
The twenties were a surprise to Jack in the Box employees. The organization let managers at locations know they were coming, but kept it secret from employees. Some volunteers have brought cookies or carols to their visit, too, Deitz said.
To Deitz, the point is to turn the table: To be hospitable to people whose work in hospitality is all about making others smile.