Hotel guest gifts $100 discount to 20 wildfire evacuees in Eugene


'I want people to pay it forward because it's the right thing to do,' anonymous hotel patron says

Crews at the Holiday Farm Fire near Springfield, September 10, 2020 (Lane County)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Twenty wildfire evacuees who were staying at a hotel in Eugene received a mysterious letter slipped under their door on September 11, just four days after the Holiday Farm Fire began burning in Lane County, to find that $100 had been knocked off their lodging bill by an anonymous hotel guest.

“This was slipped under my door at the hotel I am staying at… whoever did this, thank you!!!” wrote Ashley Smallwood on a widely-shared Facebook post, where she posted the letter that was typed up and signed by Residence Eugene Springfield General Manager Colleen Arruda.

The Holiday Farm fire is seen burning in the mountains around McKenzie Bridge, Oregon on September 9, 2020. – Hundreds of homes including entire communities were razed by wildfires in the western United States on September 9 as officials warned of potential mass deaths under apocalyptic orange skies. At least five towns were “substantially destroyed” in Oregon as widespread evacuations took place across the northwestern state, governor Kate Brown said. (Photo by Tyee Burwell / AFP) (Photo by TYEE BURWELL/AFP via Getty Images)

Arruda spoke with KOIN 6 News and confirmed that a regular guest at the hotel had approached the management asking if she could donate $2,000 off of the lodging bills of evacuees, prioritizing for people whose home addresses were in a level 3 or level 2 evacuation zone.

“Honestly, it was quite an emotional week for all of us. Just when you’re dealing with people that have lost everything, along with a pandemic….I teared up when she told me about it ’cause it just was so sweet of her to do that,” Arruda said.

The hotel had identified 20 guests who were evacuees and decided to distribute the gift by giving them one free night’s stay–or $100 off–to go towards the next night.

KOIN 6 News asked the hotel if they could get us in touch with the anonymous donor and a couple weeks after this inquiry we received a phone call from a woman who said she was the donor. Her accounting of events is corroborated by the hotel manager’s telling.

She wanted to remain anonymous but gave Alice as a first name. When asked why she decided to stay anonymous, she said “I just don’t like public attention at all.”

“I want people to pay it forward because it’s the right thing to do, not because they want to pay it back to someone like me. And that’s why I want to stay anonymous,” she explained.

Seeing the normally sparsely populated parking lot packed with cars and trailers crammed with dog kennels, furniture and valuables from people escaping fires motivated Alice to want to do a kind gesture for those in need the day she checked out of her hotel, she said.

Volunteers distribute supplies for wildfire evacuee effort at Silke Field, Springfield High School in Lane County. The Holiday Farm Fire sparked just four days earlier. September 11, 2020 (Danny Peterson/KOIN).

It wasn’t just Smallwood who made the Facebook post that expressed their gratitude to Alice, who splits her time between the Eugene-Springfield area part of the year and New York the rest of the time. The hotel arranged such that guests could drop off thank you notes at the front desk for her.

“We have them all in an envelope until the guest returns the next time,” Arruda said.

The kind gesture was still being paid forward while Alice was en route to New York. One of the guests who received the $100 off decided they did not need the donation and gave the money back to the hotel. The discount was then given to another evacuee, of which there are several still staying at the hotel, Arruda said.

“It’s really sad that all those people, a lot of people, lost their houses. We actually have a young family with us that have young kids,” she said. “All of the people that have been here, they have all been so positive and so grateful for our service and everything…it’s very heartwarming for us to be able to help these people in their time of need really.”

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