BROOKSVILLE — Her arms wrapped around the shoulders of her 12-year-old grandson, Dakota, Diana Taylor couldn't hold back the tears any longer. They hugged each other tight and held hands while her husband, Kenny, looked on.
For a change, it was good news that brought out Taylor's emotions.
A little more than a week ago, Taylor and her family lost everything they owned when their mobile home at 13280 Montour St., west of Brooksville, was destroyed in a fire that is thought to have been caused by a faulty air-conditioning unit.
Although no one was injured in the blaze, the family's 1-year-old Pomeranian puppy, Joy, died in the fire. Since the tragedy however, an outpouring of concern and generosity from the community has greatly softened the blow.
"It's just been amazing," said Taylor, 56. "It seemed like we would never get through this. I thank God that there are so many people out there with kindness in their hearts for us."
Much of that kindness has come from people who have never met the Taylors or the four grandchildren for whom the couple has had legal custody for several years.
Shortly after the fire on Jan. 24, a network of parents from Pine Grove Elementary and West Hernando Middle schools began collecting donations of food and clothing for the Taylors and their grandchildren: Dakota; Shyanna, 10; Christopher, 8; and Sierra, 7. In addition, family members and friends started organizing fundraisers to help with the purchase of another mobile home.
"Right now, we're focusing on keeping the family in one place so that the kids can stay in the same school," said Taylor's sister, Rena Dees, who lives next door to the Taylors. "So far, we've gotten a lot of help, but we could always use more. This is a family that didn't have much before the fire. They don't have anything now."
Though immediate financial assistance came from the American Red Cross, the agency's donation only paid for three days in the nearby Holiday Inn Express on Cortez Boulevard. The family has remained there, thanks to donations from the community, said neighbor Tina Tauriello, who is helping to coordinate affairs for the family.
This past week, Tauriello and another family friend, Karin Schaefer, began working the phones and combing local resources. So far, the effort has been fruitful, she said.
The women were able to negotiate a reasonable price on a used mobile home from Acme Homes in Homosassa. Meanwhile, a Brooksville company agreed to remove the old structure in exchange for its scrap value.
Tauriello said that the goal now is to try to raise about $12,000 to help with temporary housing, plus the expense of setting up a new mobile home on the property the Taylors own.
"Those are expenses that have to be met before we can act," Tauriello said. "We're keeping our fingers crossed that will happen soon."
Meanwhile, the Taylors have been eating most of their meals at restaurants, and doing a load of laundry is a chore that Diana Taylor, who suffers from diabetes and has trouble walking, has come to dread.
"Kenny has heart problems, and I just don't have the strength to haul clothes like I used to," she said. "It would be nice to find a place where it's easier to do those kinds of things."
And that's just what family and friends say they want to make happen.
Danielle Bogulski, a family friend who once lost her home to a fire, said she will host a fundraising cookout in front of Sam's Club from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and will accept additional donations from anyone wishing to make them.
Tauriello said she will have a benefit garage sale from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 12 at her home at 8310 Grant St., west of Brooksville. Anyone wishing to donate items for the sale or help financially may call her at (727) 422-3594.
In addition, Florida Traditions Bank has set up an account to accept donations for the family.
Despite the tragedy of losing his home, Kenny Taylor said he would love nothing more than to return to the property.
"All my kids grew up here, and just about all my grandkids," he said. "Some of them aren't even grown yet, but this will always be their home."
Times staff writer Will Vragovic contributed to this report. Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]