Elgin hotel clerk made Christmas cheer for families displaced by fire

After nearly two months at a hotel in Elgin where they were to celebrate Thanksgiving and their 7-year-olds’ birthday while their fire-damaged home was repaired, Nathan and Anna Fawcett did not look forward to Christmas.

But thanks to receptionist Chris Barrera at Holiday Inn Elgin, what could have been a disappointing Christmas for the Fawcetts’ three sons turned into something “super, super special” – complete with cookie decorations, letters from Santa Claus and a scavenger hunt. .

“I like to pretend like I’m in a Hallmark movie,” Barrera said. “I want to be the person who will make someone’s dreams come true.”

A fire on Nov. 3 left Fawcett’s Pingree Grove home uninhabitable. They stayed at the hotel with their three sons: Maddux, 11, Caleb, 8, and Declan, 7.

At first they thought they would be there for a few weeks.

“Two weeks turned into a month, which turned into two months,” said Anna, who is 8 months pregnant with the couple’s fourth boy.



Caleb, Declan and Maddux Fawcett got a Christmas surprise from Chris Barrera, a receptionist at the Holiday Inn in Elgin.  He arranged a series of holiday activities for them while staying at the hotel following a fire in their house.

Caleb, Declan and Maddux Fawcett got a Christmas surprise from Chris Barrera, a receptionist at the Holiday Inn in Elgin. He arranged a series of holiday activities for them while staying at the hotel following a fire in their house.
– PERMISSION OF NATHAN FAWCETT

Barrera instantly teamed up with Fawcetts as they checked in, took the kids on a tour, and initiated conversations with them on their trips to and from school.

“He was really attached to the boys,” Nathan said.

Barrera sympathized with the family with the upcoming holidays and wanted to do something to make Christmas more memorable.

So Barrera made a surprise for the kids the Saturday before Christmas, his day off.

He took letters that the boys had written to Santa, and then wrote answers telling them they were safe on the “nice” list. He placed the letters in a mailbox in a small area of ​​the hotel lobby, which he decorated as the North Pole so they could find them.



Chris Barrera, a receptionist at the Holiday Inn in Elgin, created one "Letters to Santa" station for a Pingree Grove family staying at the hotel.

Chris Barrera, a receptionist at the Holiday Inn in Elgin, set up a “Letters to Santa” station for a Pingree Grove family staying at the hotel.
– PERMISSION OF NATHAN FAWCETT

He also cut out paper reindeer heads and hid them around the lobby, creating a scavenger hunt for the kids.

Afterwards, they hit a hot cocoa bar he made for them and decorated Christmas cookies.

“It was simple, but it was fun for them,” Barrera said.

The gesture made a big impact on the Fawcett family.

“It meant the world to me, and my kids loved it,” Anna said. “They talked about it for days.”

“I cried a lot. I mean, I cried really a lot,” she said. “It was super, super special.”



Chris Barrera, a receptionist at the Holiday Inn in Elgin, made it a happier Christmas for the Fawcett family from Pingree Grove, who had lived there about two months after a house fire.  Among other activities, he brought gingerbread cookies that the kids could decorate.

Chris Barrera, a receptionist at the Holiday Inn in Elgin, made it a happier Christmas for the Fawcett family from Pingree Grove, who had lived there about two months after a house fire. Among other activities, he brought gingerbread cookies that the kids could decorate.
– PERMISSION OF NATHAN FAWCETT

Even though Barrera had told Nathan that he had something planned, Nathan was still surprised.

“His heart is full of holiday spirit,” he said. “What he did for my children, I would never have expected in a million years that anyone would do it.”

The Christmas cheer was the highlight of the two months the family had to spend at the hotel after a decorative wood-burning stove lid caught fire and slowly burned and filled the house with smoke.

“It was not a major fire where our house burned down,” Nathan said, “but it smoldered in the kitchen for hours, so our house was completely engulfed in smoke.

“It was a crazy accident that turned into a disaster,” he said.

They were not home at the time and no one was injured, but most of the downstairs was a disaster. Everything in the kitchen had to be torn out and replaced, and most of the rest had to be either thrown out or sent to a special cleaning place.



Chris Barrera, a receptionist at the Holiday Inn in Elgin, made a scavenger hunt for the Fawcett boys to find Santa's missing reindeer, which he also made, around the hotel lobby.

Chris Barrera, a receptionist at the Holiday Inn in Elgin, made a scavenger hunt for the Fawcett boys to find Santa’s missing reindeer, which he also made, around the hotel lobby.
– PERMISSION OF NATHAN FAWCETT

The family finally moved back home last Friday after more than two months of hotel stay.

“It’s been an adventure,” Anna said. “But we got through it and we made a good friend. He’s a really great guy who’s gone beyond the whole time we’ve been here.”

Barrera said he was happy to see the family finally come home.

“I’m just glad I got to know them and help create a special memory for their children.”

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