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Schools, neighbors, businesses step up after family's loss

BROOKRIDGE — As Tyrone and Brandy Hill and their six children piece together their lives after a fire destroyed their home last month, they are learning about the kindness of strangers.

They are also realizing that their ''family'' extends far beyond their blood relatives.

Three of the six children go to Pine Grove Elementary School, where guidance counselor Cathy Mara has taken the lead in organizing assistance for the Hills.

"Pine Grove is like a family," Mara explained. "We try to take care of our family."

The Feb. 1 fire that destroyed the triple-wide mobile home was likely electrical. No one was at home at the time, but the family's two pit bulls, Chocolate and King Tut, died of injuries.

Hill, 42, told authorities that his family's belongings were packed in boxes throughout the home because they were preparing to move.

The outpouring of help began even as the firefighters were completing their work at the scene. The Red Cross put the family up in a hotel for three days, and the Hills soon found a rental.

Then came the donations.

Brandy Hill, 33, recalled Pine Grove Elementary teacher Mary Goswick coming to them and bringing "everything."

"Toothpaste, a turkey from Publix, lasagna, paper cups, paper plates, soaps, six air beds," Tyrone Hill said. She also brought clothes, mostly for the children. Fifth-grader Chanel, 10, second-grader Trinity, 7, and kindergartener Tyreese, 6, attend Pine Grove.

Goswick team-teaches with Arline Henninge. "She and Ms. Goswick teamed up together with their class (collecting) unbelievable donations," Brandy Hill said. "I cried when they called me into the class to get the envelope."

Tyrone Hill Jr., 13, is a seventh-grader at West Hernando Middle School, where staffers gave the family cash and gift cards.

The 4-year-old twins, Tyrelle and Sophia, spend their days with their stay-at-home father. Brandy Hill is a medical assistant with Dr. Maria Doherty, a pediatrician who donated beds and money. Her staff chipped in, too.

Then local businesses got involved. When the Hills moved into the rental home and needed to hook up the cable, they said Bright House gave the family a TV, waived some fees and allowed discounts on the bill.

Their former neighbors in Brookridge came through as well, "from money to gift cards to clothes," Brandy Hill said.

Martha Reynolds brought gift cards and money from the Berean Assembly and Crosspointe Church. Donna Solorzano and her children Crystal and Chris Badaracco, who were next-door neighbors, stepped up to be the community contacts.

"Chris actually tried to go in to save the dogs," Tyrone Hill said. Three others did, too, "but the smoke choked them out."

Brandy Hill's grandmother, Loretta Rodeo, works at a Spring Hill Publix, where co-workers and customers donated gift cards. One co-worker gave the children an XBox 360.

Perhaps the donation that astonished the Hills most was from a vacationing couple at the hotel where the family initially stayed. The woman gave the family a check. "She put it in my pocket," Hill said. "I don't even know this woman."

He wants to be sure that everyone who was kind to them knows how much they appreciate it.

"We'd like to thank everyone who lent support to us. We greatly appreciate what you have given us."

Times staff writer Joel Anderson contributed to this report.

Schools, neighbors, businesses step up after family's loss 03/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 9:39pm]

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