1. News
  2. /
  3. St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg woman welcomed strangers into her home for Thanksgiving

Debbie Bernhard was surprised by the reaction to her Facebook invitation.
Debbie Bernhard, inset, posted an invitation in the "I Love St. Pete" Facebook group welcoming strangers into her home. [Debbie Bernhard]
Debbie Bernhard, inset, posted an invitation in the "I Love St. Pete" Facebook group welcoming strangers into her home. [Debbie Bernhard]
Published Dec. 6, 2019
Updated Dec. 6, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Late last month, Debbie Bernhard posted an invitation in the “I Love St. Pete” Facebook group.

Now, she is a community hero.

Bernhard on Nov. 25 published a post in the public group (which has more than 48,000 followers) inviting anyone without Thanksgiving Day plans or a place to go for the holiday to her home.

“I know what it’s like to be without family for the holidays,” her post read.

Debbie Bernhard, 53 of St. Petersburg posted a message in the "I Love St. Pete" Facebook group inviting strangers to her home for Thanksgiving. [Facebook]

As of Friday, the post had generated nearly 600 reactions, more than 100 comments and seven shares.

“What a lovely gesture!” responded commenter Susan Irving. “It’s people like you that make St. Pete great!”

Echoed Elaine Pettit, “How blessed we are to have kind ‘friends’ like you in our community.”

At the time, Bernhard, 53, of St. Petersburg didn’t think it was a big deal. But she’s been overwhelmed by the response.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” she said. “This is embarrassing for me, because I didn’t do it for any type of notoriety. It’s so not me. I do things for strangers all the time."

Once, she anonymously paid for the dinner of a woman sitting next to her family at a restaurant who was eating alone on Mother’s Day.

“It was so sad she didn’t have a mom,” Bernhard said. “When my family and I left, I was crying. But when I saw her walking out she had a big smile on her face.”

Last Thanksgiving, she made meals from the leftovers from her family’s dinner and took them to the men at a nearby 7-Eleven who had to work the holiday.

“I don’t see it as odd," she said. “I think that’s basic humanity. We can all do an act of kindness every day. And if we can do an act of kindness every day, we’d be in a better place.”

Opening her doors to strangers who had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving was just another act of kindness.

And much to her surprise, her gesture encouraged others to help, too.

Numerous people left comments on her post or messaged her offering money, turkeys, food and even their own homes in case Bernhard ran out of food or room at her table.

But there was plenty to eat, and everyone had a place to sit, whether at her house or one of the others.

In addition to her husband, two children, her brother and his wife, Bernhard served six others at her home. They enjoyed turkey, ham, potatoes, stuffing, desserts and wine — much of which she said guests brought with them.

Debbie Bernhard made a post in the "I Love St. Pete" Facebook group welcoming strangers into her home. Half of her table included strangers and the other half were members of her family. [Courtesy of Debbie Bernhard]

Surprisingly, only one guest came because she had seen the Facebook post: Carole Lesley, a 52-year old native of Yorkshire, England who now lives in St. Petersburg.

Lesley moved from England to Sarasota five years ago. After two years there, she lived in Massachusetts and Georgia before settling in St. Petersburg almost a year ago.

Typically, Lesley visits a friend’s home for Thanksgiving. But she was in the process of moving this year and didn’t think about where she would spend the holiday until stumbling upon Bernhard’s post.

“I thought, ‘What a nice thing to do. They must be lovely people,'" Lesley said.

She messaged Bernhard on Facebook and asked if she could join her family.

“Of course,” Bernhard responded.

The thought of going to a stranger’s house for Thanksgiving never scared Lesley, because she enjoys trying new things and meeting new people.

This was no different.

Lesley said she enjoyed every minute of the evening and stayed to chat with Bernhard and her husband hours after everyone else had left.

“We just clicked and had a connection,” Lesley said.

“We talked about England, because her husband had lived in Yorkshire for two years and was stationed there in the military."

Lesley said this was her best Thanksgiving yet.

“I’ve been to Thanksgiving dinner at so many places and they’ve never been quite like how I expected,” she said.

“I expected it to be like Christmas Day with turkey, ham, and I’ve been to friends that had more of a birthday style. I’ve been places where they’ve had paper plates, where some people serve food on the counter rather than the table, but this was the first proper Thanksgiving dinner I’ve had here."

In fact, the dinner went so well, Bernhard and Lesley have already made plans to meet for lunch, and Bernhard expects them to become lifelong friends.

She said she’s open to visitors again next year.

Just don’t expect another Facebook post.


  1. Luke Carl Neimi was arrested Thursday after Pinellas deputies said he was caught doing 145 mph on the Bayside Bridge. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
    He told deputies he was just “having some fun,” according to an arrest report.
  2. Bank OZK CEO and chairman George Gleason, left, and managing director Greg Newman are photographed at the OZK Wynwood branch in Miami on November 13, 2019. [CARL JUSTE | Miami Herald] [Carlt Juste | Miami Herald]
    In fact, Bank OZK has emerged as a powerhouse in commercial lending generally.
  3. Delta Air Lines said Friday it will launch five new round-trip routes a day between Tampa and Miami starting May 4. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File) [MARK LENNIHAN  |  AP]
    Delta says the daily nonstop Miami service will create new connections for Tampa travelers to fly to Latin America and other international destinations.
  4. Chris Card, chief of community-based care for Eckerd Connects. His agency is now running the two biggest child welfare jurisdictions in Florida. [Tampa Bay Times]
    They are spending more time outside a permanent home as the county struggles to deal with an increase in removals.
  5. St. Petersburg police say Kristoff A. King, left, faces a murder charge in connection with the death of Scott Jenks, 48, whose body was found Tuesday morning in the parking lot of the Northgate Center parking lot at 1144 94th Ave. N [Alachua County Sheriff's Office]
    Scott Jenks, 48, was found dead in a St. Petersburg shopping center parking lot on Tuesday.
  6. Ex-St. Petersburg police Officer Matthew Enhoffer is set to plead guilty to one count of distribution of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. In this 2015 picture, he received the St. Petersburg Police Department's Medal of Valor for his actions in a shootout with a troubled teenager that year. [Tampa Bay Times]
    Matthew Enhoffer once received the Medal of Valor from the St. Petersburg Police Department. Now a federal judge will decide his fate.
  7. A Winn-Dixie store on W Swann Avenue in Tampa. |Times (2017)]
    The store, near a Publix and Target, was under-performing, according to the chain.
  8. A crash is causing a major backup in the northbound lanes of the Howard Frankland bridge this morning. [Florida Department of Transportation]
    A crash in the northbound lanes of Interstate 275 caused a major backup on the Howard Frankland Bridge Thursday morning.
  9. Church members hold hands and sing during the annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Memorial Service. [CHRIS URSO  |  Tampa Bay Times (2011)]
    Hassan Shibly, CEO of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Florida, says the U.S. must learn from its past.
  10. The C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System. (Times | 2014)
    The chief justice dropped an ‘Okay, Boomer’ reference during oral arguments in the case of a pharmacist who accused the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System of age discrimination.