Al Hincken (center) walks west on Atlantic Avenue with two of his helpers, Thomas Smith (l), 29, and Bob Meyer (r), 64, to deliver food to the volunteers who help put up the city’s 100-foot Christmas tree (below). Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Lucy Lazarony
For Al Hincken, Christmas begins in October.
For the past 11 years, Hincken has visited downtown Delray Beach restaurants each October asking for food to feed the volunteers and workers assembling the 100-foot Christmas tree in Old School Square.
He returns in November to pick up the food from each restaurant for as many as 40 people.
He wears a chef cap proclaiming himself “The Kitchen Elf” and an apron celebrating Delray’s Christmas tree.
“We try to make sure nobody goes hungry. It’s always ladies first, the men volunteers and whoever’s here,” Hincken, 72, says.
He leaves at noon to pick up lunches, soon after school kids come by to help with the tree.
Students from Carver Middle School, Atlantic High School, Village Academy, American Heritage and St. Vincent Ferrer all stop by to help the busy volunteers.
Volunteers for the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative check all 15,000 LED light bulbs on the Christmas tree and properly align more than 3,000 tree branches. Some volunteers climb the tree to place the branches.
Volunteers work weekdays on the tree and it takes about three weeks to complete, depending on the weather, according to Tiffany Mazer, operations manager for the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative.
On a recent day the food delivery is from The Office, burgers and veggie burgers and fries for hungry volunteers. Hincken, who worked for Philadelphia Electric before retiring 21 years ago, walks with two volunteers to pick up and deliver the food.
After the meal, volunteers sign a thank-you note that Hincken delivers to the restaurant.
“I wait for the thank-you note. That’s got to go back,” Hincken says.
What prompted The Kitchen Elf to get started?
Hincken, who had moved to Delray Beach from Philadelphia, six months before beginning to volunteer, noticed tree vounteers were hard to come by and they were paying for their own lunches.
So he began knocking on doors. “Food brings people together,” he says. “People network and they build associations and friendships and they look forward to the next day,” he said.
He does, too. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it. The pay’s the same. It makes me happy.”
For more on Delray’s 100-foot Christmas tree, visit www.100ftchristmastree.com. Volunteers are needed to greet visitors in December and take down the tree in January.