A quick scan of Wayne Kuyer’s Langley office reveals things one would expect to see in an accountant’s place of business – a waiting area for clients, a large printer against the back wall, a bowl of candy resting on the front counter.
But look closer, and hints of Kuyer’s secret identity begin to come to light.
Sitting on a stand in the hallway is an old-fashioned adding machine, while behind the desk sits a large, hard-covered ledger, the kind Ebenezer Scrooge may have used to keep track of his every penny in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Soon, Kuyer enters the room, decked out in full costume – vintage suit, complete with gold timepiece, wire-rimmed spectacles, fingerless gloves, ascot and top hat, looking every bit like Jacob Marley, as though he has walked right out of 19th century Dickensian London.
Next month, Kuyer – as he has every year since 1996 – will don the get-up as he makes his rounds through the Langley business community, collecting donations for the Langley Christmas Bureau and the Empty Stocking Fund.
The tradition began as a two-man operation, and Kuyer – dressed as Marley – and his late business partner Stephen de Verteuil – dressed as Scrooge – would canvas various neighbourhood haunts.
In 2002, de Verteuil died after a battle with cancer, and Kuyer decided to continue the charitable effort on his own. To date, Kuyer’s efforts have raised more than $165,200.
“When Stephen passed away, I knew, number one, that I wanted to keep going with it,” Kuyer said. “It is extra work, doing it on my own now, but when you look at the extra time it takes… all you do is just look at the money we’ve raised, and it’s pretty hard to say, ‘Oh, well I’m too busy to do it this year.’ It’s helping out a lot of people. It’s nice if you’re able to appreciate where you are in your own life, and help out others when you can.”
It’s that philosophy that led the pair to begin the drive in the first place.
Kuyer said they had been brainstorming ways to help some local charities at Christmastime, and both agreed on a grassroots campaign.
The costumes, however, were Kuyer’s idea.
“A Christmas Carol has always been a real favourite of mine, so I think it was probably me who came up with it,” he said.
The first year, the pair rented their costumes and made their rounds, collecting $2,400. The next December, they raised $2,800.
“It’s just kept continually growing,” Kuyer said, adding that last year – thanks in part to a single sizable donation from one business-owner – donations topped the $22,000 mark.
The costumes – Kuyer now owns his, rather than relying on a rental – have always been an excellent ice-breaker with those who give.
“One of the nice things about putting on a costume is that it creates a dialogue. A lot of businesses have signs outside that say ‘No Soliciting’ but it’s a little different if you show up like this,” he said. “Once you put on the costume, people are happy to see you.”
Occasionally, Kuyer says he’ll go a bit further into character – “I have a little bit of a spiel I do… it’s just sort of a play on the theme,” he says – but even he has his limits.
“Sometimes, people expect that I’m going to break out into a song. But I don’t sing – I have to make that clear to people,” he laughed.
The operation is far more streamlined than the early days, too.
Now, in advance of his collection period, Kuyer sends out a letter – creatively written by his office manager Angela Miles – along with a pledge form. Then, he awaits a response and begins making his rounds.
Kuyer is quick to credit the community around him for the campaign’s continued success.
“With respect to what we’re achieving, sure, it’s partly on my efforts, but it’s really the business community that has supported it,” he said.
“We are just a conduit for people who probably already want to give, but maybe they just don’t know to where. They just need a little push, or the convenience – that’s really what this helps with. Without all this support, this wouldn’t be as successful, or as much fun.”