The phone has been ringing incessantly at the Mosley Motel since Sunday, said motel manager Rena Mosley Burgess.
Ever since the plight of families living in motels ran in the St. Petersburg Times on Sunday, the motel has been overwhelmed with offers of support for families there.
A doctor's office offered to provide a gift for each child and serve families food on Christmas. An anonymous donor asked the Mosley to choose a family once a week and he would pay for their stay. An older woman drove over from Tampa and said she wanted to bake the children cookies. She admitted that she was homeless once, too. A church group brought over jars of peanut butter, Hamburger Helper and canned beans and left them at the front desk.
"It has been overwhelming," Burgess said. "It's showing that (the Mosley) is not just about drugs and prostitution. It's about families trying to make it."
The story explored the lives of two families trying to survive on the cusp of homelessness by living in motels, many of which are now on school bus routes.
In August, family homeless shelters in Pinellas County turned away 495 families, including 1,000 children, because they didn't have room.
Sarah K. Snyder, executive director of the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless, said the county has only 218 emergency shelter beds in 60 apartments for families with children — less than half of what is needed.
Laurie Hathaway, the mother of 4-year-old Andre, profiled in the Times story, recently moved into a family shelter, Religious Community Services Inc.'s Grace House in Clearwater.
Before she got into the shelter two weeks ago, Laurie was living at the Mosley Motel with her son and her mother, struggling to come up with the cash to stay at the motel.
Lots of people have called the Times wanting to help Laurie and the other families at the Mosley. A University of South Florida English teacher wanted to start a book drive to take books to the children there. About two dozen people offered to send cash to her and other families at the Mosley.
"Rather than give gifts to one another we'd like to find some people and help them to make their rent for however long," said Linda Baez, a retired marriage and family therapist from St. Petersburg.
But several callers blamed Laurie, a waitress and a cab driver, and her mother for their plight.
"I don't know what it would be like to have to live like that," one reader said. "They must have done something wrong to get like that."
Laurie, 29, said this week she is trying to get a second job. She still works as a waitress on a dinner cruise though she's not getting as many hours as she would like.
She had to return her cab when her mother had a breakdown and could no longer provide child care. But now in the shelter, her mother is doing better and trying to get a job herself.
There are no cabs available right now but Laurie has put in for one again.
She's also applying for other jobs, including as an auto parts delivery driver.
She also heard this week from an organization that provides assistance with rent down payments to families in need.
"I'm excited to find out what that's about," she said.
Times Staff Writer Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at [email protected]