Teacher organizes ornament drive for Gatlinburg

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 1, 2016

It’s no secret that Gatlinburg, Tenn., is a favorite place for many locals to visit.
Wildfires that have broken out in the Great Smoky Mountains have claimed the lives of three, and sent more than 14,000 fleeing rom resorts and scorched businesses and homes in the area.
Monday night and Tuesday morning, tourists and residents in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge rushed to get ahead of a blaze that spread from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park into the two towns, thanks to high-gusting winds.
Now, there are charred remains of what was once buildings – businesses and cornerstones of the community, a beloved tourist attraction, now heavily damaged and destroyed by wildfire.
While the town center escaped major damage, other portions were not so lucky.
Red Level High School teacher Jennifer Supri, whose parents live in Gatlinburg, is leading a moment to help the community.
Supri said that she grew up in Birmingham, but it was always her parents’ dream to live in Gatlinburg. When her father retired, her parents found a cabin in Gatlinburg and made their dream a reality.
“We always vacationed there,” she said.
Supri said that her parents were very fortunate.
“Their cabin was right in the middle of it,” she said. “Much of their neighborhood is gone.”
Supri said her parents lost power at their home early and they relied on what she could find on the Internet to help them keep up with the growing wildfire.
Around 9:30-10 p.m., on Monday, first responders were going door-to-door to evacuate residents.
“I am thankful for those first responders,” she said. “They spent the night at my mom’s school.”
Supri said the family was prepared to lose everything, but the rain came just in time.
“My heart has held a special place for Gatlinburg, Tenn., for a very long time, and it appears the same is true for many of you,” she said. “What makes this tiny little town so special are all the memories it holds for us. Well, it is time to give some of those memories back. Gatlinburg will rebuild, but not everything can be replaced.”
Supri said that hundreds will spend the holidays with many of their treasured keepsakes gone forever.
She said she couldn’t sleep Monday night because she was realizing what her parents would have to replace, and that you can’t get back special treasures.
“Christmas has always been special for our family,” she said. “We also buy ornaments from trips and special events. It’s a physical representation of our memories. You can’t go to Walmart and buy a whole bunch of special ornaments.”
So her idea to send ornaments to Gatlinburg was born.
“Here’s where you come in: I’m starting Operation Give Back the Memories,” she said. “This will be a Christmas ornament drive with one unique twist. I am asking that you consider sending one special Christmas ornament with a note attached about why that ornament is special. Maybe you share a memory of a trip to the Smokies or maybe you find an ornament that represents your hometown and let Gatlinburg know the entire nation is praying for their recovery. It can be new or from your own tree.”
Supri’s plan is to deliver the first boxes to Sevier County Schools to be distributed to students and teachers who lost everything.
“There is one catch, the time for trimming the tree is now, so we have to hurry,” she said.
Supri said that those who are local to her, she’d ship the ornaments.
Students at Red Level Elementary School and Red Level High School are also collecting items.
Those who wish to send them on their own, may send them to, Phi Beta Phi Elementary, Attention: Kim Conrad, 1409 Catlettsburg Road, Sevierville, TN 37876.
Additionally, those who live in town may drop off their ornaments at Harold’s.