MORRIS – Kevin "Turtle" Krople may not wear a red suit or have a white beard but he has become Santa to many Morris residents over the years.
Krople, the owner of Turtle's Tap in Morris, has been hosting the dinner for 20 years as a way to give back and make sure no one is alone at Christmas.
Christmas spirit and a free meal are on the menu at Turtle’s Tap in Morris again this Dec. 25.
"We're able to do it because of our long serving volunteers who come back year after year," Krople said. "We have about 70 to 80 volunteers to be able to pull this off."
In addition to the free meal, the restaurant is filled with Santa's helpers who rush around gathering names and interests of those who came to dine, before disappearing into Santa's workshop where more helpers are ready to wrap a gift on demand.
As the diner makes their way through the buffet to grab Christmas dinner the helpers prepare to drop off the freshly wrapped gifts upon their return to the table.
Krople said it’s especially fun when they are able to deliver a large gift like a bicycle to a child, and he wishes there were more large gifts to give.
The program is funded by donors who drop off gifts or checks and from the coins in the turtle fountain that sits in the entryway all year long.
The coins tossed in by patrons, sometimes with a wish, are the same coins that grant a wish for another person.
Santa's helpers aren't just for children at Turtle's Tap, even adults receive a gift.
Krople said he's heard repeatedly over the years that the greatest gift is not being alone.
"At the end of the day, we're the lucky ones," Krople said. "I feel bad for those who don't get to experience what the volunteers experience here on Christmas."
This year’s meal will include turkey, mashed potatoes, beans, pumpkin pie and more. It is free to anyone who would like to attend.
The meal is not run by restaurant staff. It’s all volunteer staffed, from the planning down to the cooking, serving and cleaning up.
Krople said the restaurant also is seeking volunteers who can help serve, clean off tables, and wrap and deliver gifts to all the patrons.
The restaurant has served between 300-400 people at Christmas.
Krople said no reservations are required – people just need to show up ready for some good food.
Turtle’s is accepting gifts and donations to purchase gifts through Christmas Day.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Christmas dinner
WHEN: Dinner service is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Christmas Day. Volunteers can arrive at 10:30 a.m.
WHERE: Turtle’s Tap , 100 E. Waverly St., Morris
INFORMATION: Call 815-942-3664.