How a Spruce Grove family’s 12 days of giving thanks became a magical celebration of kindness

As part of our Make the Season Kind campaign, CBC Edmonton is highlighting the work our community has done to help others in 2021.

(CBC)

On the fifth day of giving, a Santa-hatted mob descended on a Spruce Grove breakfast place to serenade the diners with carols — and then picked up the tab for everyone in the restaurant.

Every December for the past five years, the Wilhauk Beef Jerky shop in Spruce Grove, Alta., has been conducting an elaborate annual 12 Days of Giving to say thank you to the community’s residents.

“Kindness is everything,” said Amanda Wilhauk, who owns the business with husband Trevor. “I mean, what do you have without kindness, and spreading kindness, and giving?” 

The first 12 Days started on Dec. 1, 2017, leading up to the shop’s first anniversary in the community west of Edmonton, she told CBC’s Radio Active.

“We just wanted to basically say thank you to our customers and to our community for coming into the store and buying jerky and buying sausage — and just supporting a brand-new business.”

For Day 5 of the Wilhauk’s 12 days of giving this year, it had volunteers gather outside a Spruce Grove restaurant. Then the merry mob went inside to sing carols and buy breakfast for everyone who was there. (Submitted by Amanda Wilhauk/Facebook)

One day during that first year, the Wilhauks paid for all the maple bacon lattes ordered at Perks. On another, they gifted an afternoon at the movies to the weary “bad moms” of Spruce Grove. They even wandered into an arena dressing room to hand Oilers tickets to a surprised volunteer hockey coach. 

The idea grew out of a friendship that developed between the Wilhauks and a homeless fellow named Paul, who Amanda first glimpsed through the window, sitting on the steps with a bag of the shop’s bottles.

“It was really honestly the first time I’d seen homelessness in our community, right on my own doorstep,” she said. “And it really bothered me.” 

The Wilhauks gave him money for a meal, promising to hold the bag of bottles for him until morning. When he returned, Amanda photographed Paul and Trevor having coffee. Then, with permission, she posted it on the shop’s Facebook page. 

“We said if any of our followers want to bring in a gift card, we’ll match it,” she said. “And we had gift cards that arrived from the United States, from Australia … It took me a year to match those gift cards.”

The snowball effect

It also taught her that a single act of kindness has a way of multiplying.

For five years, each Day of Giving has been documented on the shop’s Facebook page in heartfelt posts that remind readers of the power of paying it forward. 

Wilhauk has had mixed feelings about the social media posts, worried they might come off as bragging or self-serving.

“We don’t ever want to be like, ‘Hey, look at us,'” she said. “But we push through and we do share those stories because, in turn, it just snowballs. So many more people start giving, or bringing items in to us to give on their behalf.”

This year’s 12 days have featured gifts of zany joy — like Day 3 when Trevor, dressed as the Grinch, and daughter Scarlett, as Cindy-Lou Who, shared holiday smiles, singalongs and toboggan rides.

It has also offered gifts of peace, healing and gratitude.

To the delight of Spruce Grove residents of all ages, the Grinch (Trevor Wilhauk) and Cindy-Lou Who (Scarlett Wilhauk) have become regular features of the annual 12 Days of Giving. (Submitted by Amanda Wilhauk/Facebook )

Day 1, for example, was a sleigh ride for a six-year-old dying boy and his family. The wagon’s path was lit by lanterns while hundreds of people sang Jingle Bells along the way. 

Day 6 was a movie afternoon for the community’s teens, whose price was admission was to take an envelope with $20 and do something kind for someone else. The notes they wrote and attached to a Whoville tree told those stories of giving: Preston donated to the Kinettes Christmas hamper, Arielle gave a Walmart gift card to a stranger.

On Day 8, the Wilhauks shared Christmas love with “one thousand beautiful souls,” bringing candles and handwritten notes bearing messages of peace and blessings to 1,000 headstones at a Spruce Grove cemetery.

The 2021 campaign, which ended on Sunday, is the last.

Wilhauk said the family will continue to give but the enormity of the 12 Days will give way to time with their growing children.

With the 12 Days of Giving campaign, the Wilhauk family found fresh and poignant ways to show kindness. This year included remembering loved ones with 1,000 candles lighting 1,000 headstones throughout Spruce Grove, Alta. (Submitted by Amanda Wilhauk/Facebook )

Those children — Grayson, 16, Olive, 14, Hazen, 12, and 10-year-old Scarlett — have learned a lot from the family’s annual event. 

“It’s an act of kindness for random people,” says Hazen in  a Facebook post. “Giving to others in need to help them live better. Then maybe they can give, too.”

Even if you don’t have money, added Scarlett, you can still share kindness by smiling at people, wishing them Merry Christmas or carrying their groceries to their car.

Mom Amanda hopes that the acts of kindness and giving will continue.

“We are huge believers in the fact that at the end of your life,” she said, “all you can really take with you is what you’ve given away.”  

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