Area residents pulled together this Christmas season, giving an overwhelming response for some Hurricane Rita victims from Cameron, La.

In a previous story, Jessie Butler, an employee at the American Hospitality Inn in Good Hope, told The Times that approximately 40 Spanish-speaking people had been evacuated to his hotel.

And that if something were not done, they would not have a Christmas of any kind.

While the evacuees had anticipated staying in Cullman for just a few days, Rita’s 175 mph winds ensured they had no town to return to.

Everything they owned was lost.

With just two sets of clothing each, Butler said their situation had gone from bad to worse when they were told that they would have to leave the hotel by Jan. 7, 2006. He said he feared they would be put out on the street.

Today, Butler has changed his tune though.

In response to his call for help, he said Thursday that more than 100 new toys had been donated for the evacuees children.

In addition, he said his hotel is filled with a myriad of new and used clothing, appliances, winter coats and a veritable feast of donated food.

“It has really made me proud of my community,” said Butler. “I was afraid that there was going to be a barrier, but I never saw it. It was just outstanding.”

Butler continued, saying that so many donations were made at the hotel that he was forced to move them from the lobby to the dining room to save space. In fact, some of the used toys and clothes have already been dispersed to make room for the new ones.

“We just didn’t have anyplace else to put them,” Butler said.

The rest of the presents will be reserved for Christmas Day.

“A couple of the kids got back there without us knowing it and opened some of the presents,” Butler said. “I can’t really get mad at them though. Kids will be kids.”

In addition to the gifts, Butler said a local church group has volunteered a holiday dinner for the evacuees to be served on Christmas day.

Better still, Butler said that Beverly Denson, an American Red Cross director, called and assured him that the families would not be put out on the street.

“She said they take them (the evacuees) on a case-by-case basis and that if the need arose a housing extension or permanent housing would be worked out,” he said.

While the evacuees said previously that they still plan to return to Cameron, their situation did not look good.

According to 13-year-old evacuee Natalie Ramirez, their best option was to find a FEMA-sponsored trailer, most of which were full.

With only one building reportedly left standing in the town, Natalie said their only hope was that more parks would be completed before the deadline.

Today, the eligible children of the group attend public school in Good Hope.

According to elementary-councilor Lisa Hinkle, the children have also been given presents from the Christmas Love program, which she sponsors at the school.

“They (the evacuees) are just ecstatic,” said Butler. “I don’t believe they could want for much this Christmas.”

In a previous story, Ramirez said her only Christmas wish was that the hurricane had never happened.

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