Hot dogs for Halloween

Jason Kerr/Daily Herald Greg (far left) and Jeri (centre right) McKelvie pose for a photo with their grandchildren Leo (centre left) and Loick (far right) on Halloween at their MacArthur Drive home.

There were plenty of houses filled with suckers, gum, and mini-chocolate bars on Oct. 31, but at one house on MacArthur Drive, it’s all about the Hallowieners.

That’s the name Greg and Jeri McKelvie give to their own Halloween tradition. When trick-or-treaters make a stop at their door on Oct. 31, they’ll leave with a freshly cooked hot dog.

“We just wanted to do something for the kids so that they’d have a little bit of food in their tummy instead of a tummy full of candy,” Jeri said during a short break Tuesday afternoon. “When it started out it was just hot dogs. We had a camping bucket with water in it and reusable cups and then we’ve expanded to this now.”

‘This’ includes benches, chairs, tables, juice boxes, and water bottles. It’s an entire rest stop created so trick-or-treaters, and their friends and family, can enjoy a quick meal on the go.

“We wanted to reach out to the community … just to be kind,” Greg said.

Jason Kerr/Daily Herald
Retired school teacher Jeri McKelvie hands out a hot dog to a trick-or-treater as part their “Hallowiener” hot dog tradition. Jeri, her husband Greg, and a few friends planned to hand out more than 300 hot dogs to hungry Prince Albert youth Tuesday afternoon.

“I think we see so many needs in our city … and we’re just trying to meet people’s needs.”

The McKelvies first started handing out hot dogs in 2019. Jeri had just retired from teaching kindergarten at nearby Westview Public School, while Greg was still working at the Mont. St. Joseph Home.

As a teacher, Jeri saw some students needed more than just candy, so she began handing out toques, scarves, and mittens when trick-or-treaters arrived at the door. The hot dogs quickly followed, much to the confusion of her visitors.

“Some of the kids said no thank you at first when they came to the door,” she remembered with a chuckle. “I went (to give them a hot dog) and they’d say, ‘no thank you. We want candy.’ I’d say, ‘sorry, we don’t have candy. We only have hot dogs.’”

Despite the initial confusion, the McKelvie house has become one of the most anticipated stops for local trick-or-treaters. Some of Jeri’s formers students, now teenagers, will stop by to say hi and grab a hot dog. Current Westview students, many too young to have ever had her as a kindergarten teacher, will talk before school is even out for the day about stopping by “Mrs. McKelvie’s” for a hot dog on Halloween.

The hot dogs have become so popular Jeri and Greg have had to call in extra help. They planned for 360 visitors on Tuesday.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” said Susan McLachlan, one of Jeri’s longtime friends. “Rather than giving out candy to young children, this provides them a real healthy alternative and I’m sure they very much appreciate it, as they do the blocks upon blocks that give them the candy.”

Susan and her husband Morris were one of two couples on hand to help cook and hand out the hot dogs Tuesday afternoon. This Halloween was their first at the McKelvie house, but they’ve always supported Jeri and Greg by picking up supplies or donating funds for buns and condiments.

Susan said she thought it was a great idea right from the start.

“It was perfect,” she said. “I always have difficulty with the candy that gets handed out. Some kids eat it all right away and others just harbour it until next year, or even the year after that, so the hot dog is just a much better alternative. It’s a celebration too.”

The McLachlans are among a loyal group of friends and family who support the McKelvies. Friends from as far away as B.C. will send them money to help cover the cost.

Jeri said the local supporters are a sign that the West Flat is better than people think.

“When we said we were buying a house down in the West Flat, (they said), ‘oh, you don’t want to live in the West (Flat),’ but you know what? This is a fantastic community down here and we’ve got fantastic families down here and we want to support the kids and the school.”

For the McKelvies, handing out hot dogs isn’t just about looking after trick-or-treaters in the West Flat either. It’s also about making the most of the time they have left.

Both Jeri and Greg are cancer survivors. Health problems forced both of them to take 2022 off, meaning there were no hot dogs delivered that year.

They said getting and beating cancer helped remind them their time on earth is limited, so they’d better stay and active and give back while they still can.

“I love to see people smile,” Greg said. “I love to see people happy.”

“We had kids come last year,” Jeri remembered. “They were teenagers that I taught and) they were like, ‘Mrs. McKelvie, don’t you have hot dogs this year?’ I said, ‘not this year’ because we both had poor health, but this year we decided we had our health back, so let’s go for it.”