HOLIDAY — After her husband, Don, called with the bad news, Ronda Roberts gathered her children in the aisle of a Payless Shoe Source.
Money was tight, she said. They would have to wait for new backpacks.
A woman Roberts didn't know overheard her. She told them of a free backpack giveaway and, though Roberts had waved it off, sneaked $40 into her son's shopping bag.
Roberts' story of a random act of kindness, retold in September for the St. Petersburg Times, sparked an outcry of offers from across Tampa Bay as the family dealt with the loss of Don's job.
Since then, the Roberts have gained a lot more breathing room in their budget.
Don began working in manufacturing. Ronda, who worked as a certified nursing assistant until her hours and pay were cut, now keeps the full-time job of a stay-at-home mother.
She's thinking of starting her own business that watches and cleans homes left vacant by seasonal snowbirds. Already, several of her former nursing wards have become her clientele.
Forming a business may not be an easy task, she said, with three growing children. Drew, 9, and Graham, 10, are still making A's and B's at Sunray Elementary. Casey, 12, a wide receiver at Paul R. Smith Middle School, helped lead the Eagles to their first home victory.
The new backpacks, she added, are holding up.
For Christmas, Drew got an easel for her crayons and colored pencils. The boys unwrapped Uno, Guess Who and Connect Four games. The family, after going without TV for months, paid off the essentials and had enough for the cable bill.
As for Roberts' promise to pay the good deed forward? After her story published, she got a call from the wife of James Pitts, the dentist who led the giveaway.
She helped them hand out backpacks.
Drew Harwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.