Children and teens walked into The Barry Robinson Center (BRC) cafeteria one December day, a little unsure of what awaited them. Then, their faces lit up when they saw tables full of presents and smiling people ready to greet them.
Tuesday, December 10, marked the 24th year of local Applebee’s restaurants bringing Christmas cheer to BRC residents. Each year, employees at Applebee’s restaurants in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina raise funds to purchase gifts for residents at the Center. And it’s clear the employees look forward to sharing the holiday spirit.
“Applebee’s is about hometown heroes,” said Dennis Benson, president of Potomac Family Dining Group. “Look around you, to the left and to the right. You’re the hometown heroes today.”
Benson spoke to employees from 15 Applebee’s restaurants right before children and teens joined them for a joyful holiday celebration.
Potomac Family Dining Group owns about 60 Applebee’s in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Benson appreciates the legacy the restaurant has established with the Center. This is his seventh year with the event.
“Our employees are expanding their family by another child for the day,” he said. “This project fits so well with our Applebee’s family-style brand, where everyone is welcome and we’re your friends in the neighborhood. Everyone participates at some level, and we appreciate the connectivity, to meet the children and the staff.”
Applebee’s champion for organizing the annual holiday party is Heather Kuster. She’s an area director who has coordinated the project for the past 12 years. Rob McCartney, BRC’s CEO, recognized and thanked Kuster for her commitment.
“Benevolence is at the heart of our heritage, from our founder,” McCartney said. “Each year, you demonstrate benevolence, and we thank you for that.”
Employees at each participating Applebee’s location raise funds, among themselves and also customers – car washes, bake sales, raffles, jeans days and more. Helping increase awareness of BRC in the community is another benefit that Applebee’s provides through this project.
Applebee’s employees raise thousands of dollars, which each restaurant uses to sponsor two to four children – selecting and wrapping gifts, stuffing stockings and bringing food treats.
“Every store is literally Santa Claus for these kids,” Kuster said. “Christmas is a really big deal in my family, and it’s a really big deal to me to help the children here at BRC. It’s a really happy time.”
As a special treat during the event, BRC’s Voices of Pride choir and musicians, entertained the Applebee’s guests with holiday songs.