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With help of strangers

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published January 5, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG - Francina Brown never dreamed that so many people would care.

Brown, 52, a full-time chef at a nursing home, was already caring for six of her grandchildren and other relatives whose parents had run into trouble. In July, Brown's daughter was killed, leaving behind five more children.

She took them in, too, and they all lived in a tiny, one-bedroom apartment on Newton Avenue S.

She considered what she was doing normal.

But after a story on Brown appeared in the St. Petersburg Times, people mailed checks and bought groceries. Local real estate agents donated thousands of dollars. Aundra Bryant, an administrative assistant in Tallahassee, nominated her to receive a $1,000 award from Tom Joyner's radio talk show (which she got).

Now, with the help of strangers, Brown has obtained something she never expected: A $177,000, four-bedroom house for her family.

"The kids want to move in today," said Brown, smiling as she signed the paperwork to close on the house in the offices of Sanders Title Co. Thursday.

Askia Aquil, the head of St. Petersburg Neighborhood Housing Services, which played a big role in helping find Brown a house, said he was delighted to make it possible for her.

"We were able to turn this into a triumph for the community," Aquil said. "It was really a tremendous outpouring of support."

Various loans will help pay for Brown's home. The city is contributing $25,000 through a home lending program, Third Federal Bank provided a special $141,600 loan, and Aquil's organization is giving the rest. Brown also received about $14,000 in donations, most of which paid off debts.

"I am so grateful," Brown said. "All my life I've never had help like what I've received here. I've had to do everything on my own."

Brown came to the signing wearing a white T-shirt. Afterward, she had to go to work.

[Last modified January 5, 2007, 01:23:01]


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