LA CROSSE, Wis. - (WXOW) - The holidays are a time where many come together and celebrate with family members.
Dan Deicher, the manager of the Days Inn on French Island, has seen this kindness and support with his own eyes. The Monday before Thanksgiving he was running errands by the mall when he saw a lady and three young children with a sign asking for help. He explained that he doesn't usually stop but something about this family got his attention.
"I kind of pulled back around the parking lot and sat there for a little bit and as I watched this family, I saw a little girls head pop out of the stroller and they were pretty cold," said Deicher.
He said he has kids of his own, and he felt he couldn't just leave them out in the cold, especially with a winter storm on the way. Deicher decided to pull up and call them over.
"I said, "I'd like to have your family come back and come in the hotel, if you're stranded, whatever the case is, I'll put you up for a week," said Deicher. "She said well it's not just us, it's my family of eleven. Doesn't matter. It's Thanksgiving, no one is going to be sitting out here in the cold."
Deicher said six members of the family arrived at the Days Inn, and just a few hours later, the rest of the family was welcomed in. There were four adults and seven kids, ranging in age from 3-16. Deicher explained that he soon found out they were Romanian and some of the most genuine, kind-hearted people he has ever met.
The family wasn't from Wisconsin and was trying to get back home. He posted on Facebook that he had taken them in and was asking for any community support he could get to help the family out. He said some friends showed up with hundreds of dollars worth of food, and that is only where the generosity started.
Deicher said the family was grateful beyond belief.
"They were blessing us all the time, saying 'Jesus is going to save your family for everything you guys have done. This is incredible," said Deicher. "There was a lot of crying in there because one of the little boys looked up at his brother when my daughter was working here and said "Do we have to leave in two hours? Are they going to kick us out or do we get to actually sleep in a bed?"
As the week went on, the community support grew. Deicher said people would come by dropping off donations whether it was food, clothing, or monetary. He said families dropped off toys for the little ones to play with.
"It was a whole new world for them," said Deicher.
Deicher said he asked the mother if there was anything else they could do for them and she said she just wished she could give her kids clothes for Christmas. So, he went back to Facebook and reached out to the community again.
"It was astounding, the stuff we had coming in here," said Deicher.
He found bags of clothing leftover from previous donations they had received for another family they put up after their home burned down. That family decided to donate these clothes they had received to the Romanian family and it turned into a Christmas miracle for them.
While Deicher and the community were doing everything they could for the family, this Romanian family decided to give back in a unique way. His birthday was on Tuesday, and the family had bought him a birthday cake and candles. The family lit the candles and sang to him in Romanian while giving their thanks for all he and the community had done for them.
"It was unreal that this family was trying to find a way to survive on their own, but yet found a way to go buy me a birthday cake," said Deicher.
Deicher explained that his staff at the Days Inn and the La Crosse community are truly unlike any other.
"The donations and things people have brought in here, it's not just me, it's the whole community," said Deicher. "It really shows a lot about the La Crosse area and outside the La Crosse area, and COVID or no COVID, people are struggling. When you get a family like this where they can just walk across the street and donate to...It's a community I know I'm never going to move out of because I know what's here."
But the community's generosity and strength go so much further. From food drives to monetary donations to the Salvation Army or other places in need, the strength is unwavering.
"You see ordinary citizens who are caring for neighbors," said Tom Thibodeau, Distinguished Professor of Servant Leadership at Viterbo University. "You see ordinary citizens who still continue to volunteer so that the La Crosse center fed 3500 people for the community Thanksgiving dinner. The same was true in Onalaska and Holmen and other various communities where they came together and said 'none of our brothers and sisters are going to be without the opportunity for a meal on Thanksgiving Day.
During the holidays, the support seems to go even further.
"We can point to rotary lights, 3,200 volunteers collecting food for people in the community for the next two months. It wasn't a sense of obligation, oh we have to do this, this is who we are," said Thibodeau.