The new year got off to a rough start for a family that has brought a lot of holiday cheer over the years, but a grateful community is proving the season of giving isn't over in Buffalo, Minn.
Fox 9 News first met Elmer Abbas a couple of Christmases ago when he learned his future son-in-law sat on his lap years earlier when he was a mall Santa. Over the weekend, he and his wife, Carole, lost everything they owned after fire consumed their home -- but now, neighbors and friends are coming together to help them in their hour of need.
Buffalo, Minn., may be a long way from the North Pole, but the arctic cold that came to the area over the weekend isn't the only thing bringing a tear to a sometime Santa's eye.
"It's not going to be anymore; that's what's going through my mind," he said. "It's just not going to be."
A lifetime of memories were reduced to smoke and ash on Saturday night. Abbas and his wife came back from the grocery store to find smoke billowing from their 100-year-old farm house. Although they made it out all right, but the flames that eventually swept through every room claimed nearly all of their beloved possessions and their cat.
"I had a room that was the grand kids' playroom, and my sewing room. I had shelves all around that room of all my kids' mementos," Carole Abbas told Fox 9 News. "That's the room I'm going to be saddest about for the longest time."
For the past 15 years, Abbas dressed as Santa to bring holiday cheer to schools and Christmas parties around Buffalo. Now, a Facebook group dedicated to helping the man who helped so many others in the community is organizing help.
"It's always been a house for people to come and be loved," Liz Buro, Elmer and Carole's daughter, said, explaining that her parents had housed refugees and foster children there. "It's just hard."
The Abbas did have and insurance and are staying with friends for now. They hope to rent a place nearby soon, but rebuilding their home and their lives will be on Santa's wish list next Christmas.
"I don't want a big, fancy house," Carole Abbas said. "I just want a home -- a place for my kids and grand kids to come and build new memories."
One of the items Elmer Abbas lost in the fire is his Santa suit, but he has heard that someone donated a red and white replacement.
Firefighters are not sure what caused the fire, but they do know it began in the basement. Anyone wishing to help the Abbas family can do so by donating at the following link: rally.org/Abbas
Checks and well-wishes can also be made out to the Elmer and Carole Abbas Home Fund and sent to:
Elmer and Carole Abbas Home Fund
P.O. Box 373
Buffalo, MN 55313