SUTHERLIN — December had already been a tough month for 30-year-old Crystal Jensen of Sutherlin. She lost the place where she was living and had been couch-hopping for most of December. She lost her truck earlier in the month, was jobless and her two kids had to stay with her parents.
On Friday, Dec. 20, the father of her children, Cory Stillwell, died in a motor vehicle crash west of Sutherlin.
Then a friend’s mother told the story about Jensen and her two children, Coltin Stillwell, 10, and Cloey Stillwell, 7, to a member of the Sutherlin Fire Department. The firemen went into action.
“They called me, I wasn’t expecting it,” Jensen said. “They wanted to help with keeping us together and help me out for Christmas.”
When the firemen found out that Jensen and the two young kids were connected to the fatal crash, they wanted to do a little extra. They were able to get two rooms at the Best Western Hotel in Sutherlin, which the hotel donated so the family could spend a couple of nights together.
“We wanted to do a little more than just give out toys, so we got the rooms and picked up some gifts and the association paid for dinner and a little tree and wrapped up some presents,” Sutherlin Fire Battalion Chief Dan McCormick said. “They just wanted to go a little extra for the kids because they’re going through an awful time.”
McCormick said the firemen got other donations to help. One woman overheard their conversation while they were shopping for the kids and donated some money to help pay for the presents.
When the family arrived at their hotel room Christmas Eve, they found everything the firemen had set up. They were stunned, but thrilled.
“It was awesome when we checked in and we went to the room and there was a miniature tree and a note on it saying there was dinner in the fridge and a movie for us to watch,” Jensen said. “That was very nice of them.”
But there was more to come. Two veterans from the Old Guard Riders from Company “C” in Roseburg, Dana Foley and Scott Harris, came with more gifts. They had two new bicycles with helmets and some other gifts for the two kids.
“We had a couple of bikes that a family donated and wanted them to go to a family in need,” Foley said.
The bikes were a big hit for the kids.
“They love their bikes, absolutely won’t get off of them. They said this is the best Christmas they’ve had and I’m happy because they’re smiling instead of crying,” Jensen said.
After the kids got their new bikes, they thanked the veterans and Coltin had some wise words for his mother.
“My son said ‘See mom, miracles happen, this is another good day’ and he rode out in the motel parking lot until it got dark,” Jensen said.
It was hard for her to put into words what it meant for her kids to get the presents and how appreciative she was that the firemen and the veterans were so thoughtful to give her kids a real Christmas after all they’d been through.
“They’re amazing. It’s words I can’t even put together, seeing my kids’ faces and the heartache I’ve seen in their eyes from losing their dad — it’s like a pain that I can’t take away, and just seeing them happy was awesome,” Jensen said.
Things may finally be looking up for Jensen. She found a job and plans to start right after the first of the year.
Jensen related something her son told her after his dad’s death:
“‘You know what mom, God has a plan for everybody and he takes all bad and makes a good out of it, so even though we don’t understand it now, we will later.’”