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RELYING ON THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

Parents and two kids looking for a new life lose everything. Many people step in to help.

They rolled into Florida on a Greyhound bus, 26 hours from Louisiana, a man, a woman and two little boys. They checked into a cheap motel and walked across the bridge to Clearwater Beach.

It was late afternoon. The stroller's wheels sank in the sand, so they left it by the road, hiding the woman's purse under a T-shirt, and took the boys to the water.

The man came back for a cigarette, and the purse was gone.

He started crying.

Nearly all their money was in there, and most of their important documents.

But over the next two weeks, Brandy and Christopher Kneisley found sustenance in a series of kind acts by people they had never previously met.

- - -

This story comes from interviews with the Kneisleys, two people who helped them, and a sheriff's incident report.

The Kneisleys left Bossier City, La., because work was scarce. Christopher, 35, landscapes and paints and does construction. He had lived in Pasco County before, and he was sure he could find a job here.

Brandy's purse contained nearly $500 in cash, plus birth certificates, IDs and Social Security cards. They reported it stolen and stayed the night in the motel, because it was already paid for. Then they started walking north along U.S. 19. Brandy, 28, carried Jacob, 1, while Christopher hauled the stroller that contained Joshua, an irrepressible 5-year-old, with their possessions hitched on.

This was July 19. They had reached Tarpon Springs when a woman stopped and drove them to Sun Coast Baptist Church in New Port Richey. A church member put them up at the River Side Inn.

Christopher sought work, but it was difficult without an ID card. He walked up and down U.S. 19, offering to clean parking lots for food.

A man from a Methodist church in Hudson gave Christopher a bike. Through Regency Baptist in Port Richey, they met Judi Mangas.

For eight years or so, Mangas has kept a storage unit full of household goods for whoever might need them. She fills it with free leftovers from yard sales. She gave the Kneisleys clothes, toys and books. Church members paid for the family to stay at the Comfort Inn in Port Richey.

Late on Monday night, Christopher and Joshua showed up at a Denny's on U.S. 19, looking for food. The manager gave them some french fries. They were sitting outside, eating, when Pasco County Deputy Matt Kadel stopped to get some coffee and write his reports.

Christopher told Kadel his story, and Kadel checked it out - and then he got to work.

Joshua was shirtless, with sores from infected insect bites. Brandy had a torn ligament in her ankle. Kadel arranged for a ride to the emergency room. He drove them to their hotel. The next day, he helped them get prescriptions. He gave them stuffed animals, crayons and toys.

The Sheriff's Office gave them groceries and a Wal-Mart gift card.

Wednesday, Christopher went out to look for work again. He found none. The family is not sure where they will stay tonight. But Joshua's spirits were high.

He held up a Spider-Man doll that was nearly his size.

"The police officer got me this," he said, and then he set it down and began to sing.

Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.

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