Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg families have plenty of presents thanks to YMCA

ST. PETERSBURG — She started her day before the sun did, at 5:30, with a spread of pancakes and sausage for her children, all seven. They watched cartoons as she slipped on light blue scrubs and brushed her dark hair, streaked with pink.

Her sister, that day's babysitter, arrived just after 6, and a few minutes later Shirley Johnson headed for a house where an 88-year-old man was waiting. She got him out of bed and into the shower. She dressed and shaved him, made a breakfast of oatmeal, a banana and two slices of toast. She brought him his newspaper. He thanked her.

Just before 10, Johnson left. She had an appointment.

She pulled into the Childs Park YMCA and parked at the far end of a packed lot. She hustled to the front door, past people with wide smiles lugging pink bicycles and black garbage bags heavy with toys. A volunteer motioned her inside, and she approached two women at a table. Johnson handed one of them a green sheet of paper that included each of her kids' ages, from the oldest, 10, to the youngest, 4.

"You've got a long list, Shirley," said the woman, her eyebrows raised. The volunteer found Johnson's name on a long directory and handed back the sheet.

On Saturday, for the 23rd year in a row, the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg held its Toy Box Morning, where more than 300 low-income families picked up 3,000 free gifts for their children.

Johnson, 33, born and raised in St. Petersburg, hadn't thought she deserved a spot on that directory. She worked two jobs, one as a certified nursing assistant, which paid $12 an hour, and another in Hillsborough as a process server, which on its best days paid $125.

"I was able to buy some gifts," she said. "There are people who don't have the ability to buy any gifts."

But Johnson often volunteers for the YMCA. Two weeks ago, she and one of her sons delivered Christmas trees to people who couldn't afford them.

Deborah Figgs-Sanders, the local YMCA's executive director, met Johnson, and learned she had seven kids.

"I'm going to adopt you," Figgs-Sanders told her.

She made sure Johnson's name was on that directory.

And so on Saturday, she walked through a fluorescent hallway toward a room where the mass of toys were spread across more than a dozen tables.

Johnson took her time. She picked things up, put them back, picked them up again.

A half-hour later, before she headed to the house of a 90-year-old man, Johnson loaded her car with seven black garbage bags.

For Caleb, 10, she got Axe body spray, because his mom teases that he's a flirt. For Kenyon, 7, a kick ball, because he likes sports of all kinds. For Kenyona, 7, and Aliyah, 6, a pair of diaries, because they both like to write. For Kenyeh, 8, and Aliyjah, 6, a mini basketball hoop because a plastic bucket with its bottom cut out is tacked on their bedroom door. And for Alexis, 4, a toy doctor's kit, because she wants to help people, like her mom does.

St. Petersburg families have plenty of presents thanks to YMCA 12/21/13 [Last modified: Saturday, December 21, 2013 9:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida education news: Solar eclipse, gender gap, new schools and more


    TOTAL ECLIPSE: More than 8,000 Hernando County students skip school after their school district gives them excused absences for the day. Students who …

    Students at Bayonet Point Middle School observe the solar eclipse Monday through their special eclipse glasses.
  2. Epilogue: Martin Giles a man of few, but strong, words for WFLA-AM 970


    As the story goes, his higher-ups at the Misawa Air Base in Japan were clear with their edict to Martin Giles: It was only the mid-1950s, not far enough away from World War II for the Japanese to be trusted.

    Martin Giles, a longtime radio news anchor for WFLA-AM 970, died last week at the age of 80.
  3. Forecast: Minimal rain, for now, as hot temperatures prevail across Tampa Bay


    Tampa Bay residents can expect a calm, rain-free start to Tuesday before showers arrive in the evening.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]
  4. Afghanistan reaction mixed on Trump's tough-talking speech


    KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghans on Tuesday welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump's harsh words for Pakistan in a speech outlining his strategy for the war-torn country that critics said offered little in the way of details and ruled out nation-building.

    President Donald Trump speaks at Fort Myer in Arlington Va., Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, during a Presidential Address to the Nation about a strategy he believes will best position the U.S. to eventually declare victory in Afghanistan. [Associated Press]