ST. PETERSBURG — It starts with a computer sitting in the Publishers Clearing House headquarters in Port Washington, N.Y., running through the millions of sweepstakes entries. Next, a stop at the local flower shop. It ends in front of some lucky winner's door, giant $1 million check in hand.
Sometimes, it ends in front of the winner's workplace.
That's how Holly Bloom's life changed on Friday.
"Hi, Holly, we're from Publishers Clearing House," spokesman Dave Sayer told her, "and guess what?"
"I'm rich?" answered an astonished Bloom, 40.
• • •
Everyone's seen the Publishers Clearing House TV commercials and online videos. They've seen the "Prize Patrol's" Dave Sayer and Danielle Lam in their wool navy blazers, surprising people with oversized checks across the country.
This week, Sayer and Lam came down to Florida to surprise Bloom.
The Prize Patrol assembled at Carter's Florist & Greenhouses at 2200 22nd Ave. S, their de facto headquarters in St. Petersburg. They bought two dozen roses. They plotted how they'd surprise the winner who lives in the rented duplex around the corner.
This would be the first time the Prize Patrol has doled out $1 million to someone in the Tampa Bay area since a Lutz resident won in 1997.
Late Friday morning, they were ready to roll out.
"You never know what you're going to get," Lam said.
Some winners are too shocked to speak. Some just start screaming.
Others feel relieved.
They could really use the money.
• • •
Lam knocked on the door of Bloom's pale yellow house as a dog barked.
Neighbors started popping their heads outside, shocked by the big check. No answer. So the Prize Patrol headed to First Home Bank in downtown St. Petersburg, where Bloom was working.
Bloom walked into the building's lobby to find an elaborate bouquet, balloons and check waiting for her. Bloom could barely speak.
She started entering Publishers Clearing House contests as she paid her own way through college at Kent State and lived with her grandparents in Ohio.
But the past year has been hard. She worked in banking for a while, then ended up as a server at a pizza place. She married last year, and she and her husband moved in with his parents to get by.
Things are getting better, though. Bloom got another job in banking. Her husband's parents loaned them money so they could get their own place.
But she didn't stop entering the sweepstakes online. A million bucks sure could provide stability.
"A year ago, I was almost on the streets, but things turned around," Bloom said. "It's all a blessing."
What will she do with her winnings? Bloom said she wanted to donate to Junior Achievement to help those like her, who went to college against the odds. She also plans to pay back that loan.
The normal-sized $25,000 check she was handed Friday will go straight to the bank. The rest of her winnings will come later.
"We always seem to surprise our winners right when they need us most," Lam said.
Contact Sara DiNatale at email@example.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.