It’s been a tradition for so long that Arby’s provides a free lunch daily to 150 Christmas Bureau volunteers that no one really knows how or when it began.
Dave McGann, who owns five Arby’s locations in Spokane, has his restaurant at 10407 E. Sprague Ave. make the food every day, filling boxes with sandwiches and chicken tenders to be brought to the Spokane Fair and Expo Center.
Around the time that McGann started providing the lunches, which was a little more than 20 years ago, he started coming to the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center as a volunteer. After all this time, he’s not certain which came first, the volunteering or the lunches. “I always wanted to see what was going on,” he said. “I knew they did good stuff.”
He quickly became a regular, returning year after year. He soon recruited his director of operations, Jerry Pederson, to come and volunteer as well.
“Once you see it, you’re hooked,” McGann said. “I enjoy it. It’s a great thing. People are so generous with their time, talent and donations. That’s kind of what keeps us going year after year.”
Pederson also keeps coming back year after year and his dedication can be traced, in part, back to his childhood. His mom was a single mother raising six boys, and there wasn’t a lot of money to go around. Pederson remembers that at Christmas, the only gifts they got came from their church. He remembers what it was like to need the help of others at Christmas.
Pederson is now one of the computer intake supervisors and is there every day the Bureau is open. “Our heart is in it to serve the community,” he said. “There’s such a great need out there.”
He said he’s always struck by how grateful people are for the food vouchers, which were $30 this year. “To me a $30 voucher isn’t much, but to the recipients it’s a big deal, and then the toys,” he said. “The toys are huge.”
Thousands of sandwiches aside, Pederson said he looks forward to being a volunteer every year. “I do it because it gets my heart right in serving others,” he said. “It is a joy.”
Donations have slowed a bit, with $3,760 arriving to bring the Christmas Bureau’s year-to-date total to $355,447.08. The goal is to raise $600,000 to pay for the grocery store vouchers, toys and books given to families for Christmas.
Scott and Vicki Jones, of Spokane, donated $1,000 via the Innovia Foundation in memory of Barry and Carole Jones.
Daniel Lennon, of Spokane, donated $500. An anonymous Spokane donor contributed $500, writing, “Thank you for all you do to bring cheer during the holidays to our community. Happy holidays!” Pam Ness donated $500. Christine Carroll, of Spokane, sent $500, writing, “May the season bring joy, happiness, laughter and togetherness.”
Bob and Kathy Buhlen, of Spokane, donated $150 in memory of Lee Spencer.
Patty and Mike Hostetter, of Nine Mile Falls, donated $100. Lynn Reilly, of Spokane, gave $100 in memory of Kenneth Reilly. Karen Vandervert, of Spokane, sent $100, writing, “Thank you all you do for so many. God bless.” An anonymous Spokane donor gave $100.
Marilyn Anderson, of Spokane, gave $75. Laverne Truman, of Spokane, donated $60.
Gary and Jan Huguenin, of Spokane, gave $50 “in memory of our good friend, Janace Kjolseth.”
An anonymous Spokane Valley donor sent $25.
Editor’s note: This story as been updated to correct the attribution of a quote about the generosity of donors and volunteers.