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Del Webb 'elves' provide Christmas to fire victims

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Submitted: The Christmas tree and presents the Mattern family received as a surprise

Santa made an early trip for a Mt. Juliet family who lost everything in a horrific house fire just before Thanksgiving.

It was hundreds of locals from the Del Webb at Lake Providence community who put a bug in Santa's ear and suggested his elves put in overtime for the Mattern family, especially their six children ages four through 14. In mere minutes a blaze ripped through their home on Sunnymeade Drive and devoured all their belongings. They were not hurt. Since then, parents Shay and Jordan have done their best to try to piece back their lives. A large piece was filled Friday night when they were surprised in the Del Webb clubhouse with a joyous presentation of dozens of presents and a huge amount of gift cards.

Turns out those "elves" were hundreds of the Del Webb community's residents, who in just one week managed to gather up the presents and gift card donations to present to the struggling family.

"I heard about the fire and the Mattern family, and I thought, 'these kids aren't going to have Christmas,'" said resident Joe Thompson. "I knew this would be the case unless somebody stepped up."

He said what happened next was "spontaneous." Another resident sounded the cry in a popular blog post and soon a box was set up in the clubhouse.

"I set it up on a Friday morning, and by that afternoon, it was full," said an emotional Thompson. "I had to empty it and set it up again."

"It was amazing," said the community's lifestyles director Erin Brown.

"In one short week, Friday to Friday, there was an outpouring of support with over $4,000 in gift cards collected for the family to Walmart, Target, gas stations and area grocery stores," she said. "There were also items donated such as clothing, two loveseats, as well as a beautiful flat screen television. Plus all the toys."

Mattern family astounded

Thompson said when the six children saw the fully decorated tree with dozens and dozens of wrapped and unwrapped presents they at first stood stock-still. He said when they found out the presents were for their family they raced to the tree.

"They were overjoyed," he recalled. "They scattered and started picking out their own gifts. It was really heartwarming."

This warmth, Thompson noted, filled the room. Not only was the family full of gratitude, the residents who donated the presents got a feel-good buzz as well.

"It was a blessing both ways," he said. "It touched all us seniors to see the kids running around. The children were smiling ear to ear, and so were we."

Shay's eyes filled with tears, especially when Thompson noted they would not let her kids go without Christmas.

"Del Webb is absolutely amazing. They are such very, very sweet people," she said.

She said her kids were blown away by the pre-Christmas surprise.

"They loved it and were super excited," Shay said. "The abundance of love was overwhelming."

The future?

It's one day at a time for the Mattern family. They've bunked with Jordan's family for the past month. Needless to say, it's been a tight squeeze. The family said without the generosity of the Mt. Juliet community they seriously don't know how they would have survived. And, good news, they just found a home to rent in the same neighborhood so their six kids can continue in the same school district and their own individual schools.

They move into their new place Thursday.

They plan to put up a small Christmas tree for their first Christmas there. They say it's important to try to have semblance of normalcy. They face the New Year with new hope.

"And right before Christmas we found a new home," Shay said quietly. "Thanks to Del Webb and others, our children will have a happy Christmas. Beyond happy!"

Writer Laurie Everett can be reached at

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