Carlton County teams spread holiday cheer

The Best Christmas Ever movement started in northern Minnesota, but has grown to help more than 100 families in the U.S. and Canada each year.

Russ Davidson's Best Christmas Ever team set up a tree at Mike's Cafe and Pizzeria in Esko as a spot to drop off gifts and donations for a family in need this holiday season. Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal

With even Thanksgiving leftovers finished off, the calendar is ticking its way toward Christmas and some in Carlton County are taking a break from shopping for family members to help those less fortunate this season.

Carlton County boasts at least two teams that are raising money and collecting gifts for Best Christmas Ever (BCE) to help struggling families struggling. The BCE movement began in 2011 to help give a couple of Minnesota families in need a Christmas celebration they otherwise couldn't afford. The goal is to raise $5,000 in gifts and support for each family with the hope of making a lasting impact on their lives.

Typically, families have no idea what is coming until they see carloads of gifts pull up at their house.

Russ Davidson is the captain of a team in Esko and has been involved with BCE for several years, but last year he saw just what an impact it can have on a family in need.

Davidson’s grandson, Jackson Pfister, died tragically while playing football for Esko. The family was still struggling with grief when a carload of people and gifts showed up at a holiday gathering. Davidson wasn’t involved at all last year, but when asked to captain a team this year he didn’t hesitate.


“I told them I am absolutely all-in this year and I will captain a team,” Davidson said.

Since the movement was introduced, it has nearly doubled the number of families it supports annually. Now, BCE supports 100 families throughout the U.S. and Canada each holiday season.
This year, a pair of Carlton County teams are supporting families, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic things look a little different. Nicole Milberger captains a team for Reliable Insurance Agency in Cloquet. Milberger's and Davidson’s team each have an Amazon Wishlist on the BCE website. In addition, each team has a secure webpage to make donations to help purchase gifts and offer financial support.

Besides gifts on the wish list, the families will complete a course from Financial Peace University and after completion, they will receive $1,000 to apply to one of their bills. They will also receive $1,000 to put toward groceries following completion of a health and nutrition program.

“We’re leaning on all those donations to help our family, and people are coming through big time,” Davidson said.

Milberger added a new wrinkle to her team’s plans. They are asking for gift cards to local restaurants in an effort to support them while they struggle with coronavirus restrictions. The effort will also give the family an opportunity to eat out without impacting their budget. Sammy’s Pizza in Cloquet, the Streetcar in Carlton and Mike’s Cafe and Pizzeria in Esko are all on the list.

To help support local businesses during the pandemic, Reliable Insurance Agency created tags of gift cards to purchase for the family it is supporting for Best Christmas Ever. Those wishing to help can pick up a tag off the office door and leave the gift card in the drop box outside by Wednesday, Dec. 16. (Jamey Malcomb /

“Last year was my first year, and I learned a lot,” Milberger said. “But this year because of everything that’s going on, we wanted people to go and buy gift certificates at these businesses that are struggling.”


The laminated tags for gift cards still needed are available at Reliable Insurance Agency in Cloquet and the cards can be returned at the office drop box.

The gift drop-off events typically involve a large gathering of people at the homes of the recipient families — something that is simply not possible because of the pandemic.

Milberger said her team and BCE staff are still debating how the drops will go this year, but one thing is certain: families in need will get some support at a timewhen they need it most.

How to help

Gifts for Davidson’s team can be made at Mike’s Cafe and Pizzeria at 3 E. Highway 61 in Esko or online at .

Checks made out to “Best Christmas Ever” can also be mailed to:

Russ Davidson

P.O. Box 104

Esko, MN 55733


Gifts for Milberger’s Reliable Insurance team can be dropped off at the Cloquet office, 803 Carlton Ave., or online at .

For more information about the BCE movement and to view wish lists for teams across the state, go to .

Gifts for both teams must be received by Wednesday, Dec. 16.

Gift card donations for the Reliable Insurance Agency Best Christmas Ever team can be dropped off at the Cloquet office at 803 Carlton Avenue by Wednesday, Dec. 16. Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal

Gift card donations for the Reliable Insurance Agency Best Christmas Ever team can be dropped off at the Cloquet office at 803 Carlton Avenue by Wednesday, Dec. 16. Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
What To Read Next
Get Local