Some Gatlinburg restaurants stayed open on Christmas day, feeding customers who are still without permanent homes after wildfires swept through Sevier County and damaged 2,400 buildings.
At the Crystelle Creek Restaurant and Grill, several servers volunteered to work through the holiday. Some employees were especially motivated after wildfires displaced one of their own coworkers.
"I've lived everywhere, being a musician. I've been all around the country, and these people -- when the fire got me -- really restored my faith in humans,” said waiter Ben Stroupe.
Stroupe lost more than just his Ski Mountain home to the fires. As a musician, many his most prized possessions were also destroyed, including 52 of his guitars, several studio recordings, and songs he had written and recorded as early as the 1970s.
“It felt like a dream for two weeks,” he said. “It still does. You think, ‘I’ll go home and get this,’ and you realize, you don’t have a home anymore.”
In his time of need, his Crystelle Creek family stepped up, offering clothing and housing.
"I really am turning people down,” he said. “They donated so many clothes that I've passed them on now like three times.”
Restaurant co-owner and manager Brett St. John says after the fires, managers brainstormed on how to help other displaced victims like Stoupe over the holidays -- some of whom are still living in hotels and may have no access to kitchens for a meal.
"We just asked everybody that worked for us: ‘Who would be willing to work on Christmas Day?’ And it was strictly volunteer."
Stroupe said volunteering to work on Christmas was a way to give back after the community gave back to him. "No question at all. It was a no brainer!" he said.
On Christmas, the "Open" sign outside the restaurant’s doors attracted more customers than expected, keeping the six volunteer servers who chose to sacrifice their holiday extra busy.
"Especially on a Sunday, we're four or five times what we would normally be," St. John said.
"A lot of people know of my situation, and everyone’s just got a good spirit today,” said Stroupe. “I just want to say Merry Christmas to everyone, and just... thank you. Thanks for the help.”
Stroupe plays every Tuesday night from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the restaurant, and invites the public to listen.
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