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Fire victims flooded with kindness

Shae Howard still wakes up from nightmares.

The 4-year-old dreams that she's back in the fire that destroyed her family's apartment Monday night.

"She wakes up screaming and crying," said Shae's mother, Jessica Howard. "She just wants to be in a bed and know that everything is okay."

But what started out to be a nightmare for the family has turned into a showcase of kindness.

From dining room sets to personal checks, numerous donations from their neighbors and others have been flooding the office of their apartment complex, Village at Old Tampa Bay.

"We are really a receiving and distributing center right now," said Hank Lobdell, district manager of United Dominion Realty Trust, which owns the Village at Old Tampa Bay apartment complex.

Jessica and her husband, Jerome, were left homeless after the fire destroyed their two-bedroom apartment off Tampa Road. There were no injuries to the family, but the Howard's cat, Precious, died during the fire. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Among the donations the family has received is a $1,000 check from Jacques Demers, the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"He didn't do it for publicity reasons," said Jay Preble, the team's director of public relations. "He had a rough time when he was younger and he never forgot that."

Demers asked Preble to drop off the personal check at the complex's office Thursday morning. He also asked Preble to keep it low profile.

"He does this thing more than anyone knows," Preble said. "When he hears about things like this, he just likes to help out."

And Demers is not alone.

The complex's office has received a bassinet, five paper bags full of children's toys and clothes and four sealed envelopes, said Lobdell, whose company has given the family about $245 in gift certificates for food and children's clothes and toys.

"It's amazing how fast everything is coming into our office," Lobdell said. "It's good to see the community come together."

The family has also received offers of a queen-size bed and a couch. Most of the furniture donations came from the complex's residents.

"Before, we were thinking of moving out when our lease was up, but because of the way they are treating us, we are going to stay here," said Jessica Howard, 23. "It's really wonderful how people are responding to this."

The family was able to move into a new apartment Wednesday. The couple had been sleeping in a model apartment since the fire, and Shae and their other daughter, Page, who is 6 weeks old, were staying with their great-grandmother.

The family has set up a trust fund at Republic Bank. Donations will be accepted at any Republic Bank.

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