Neighbors, friends, business owners and complete strangers have all come forward to help a FishHawk Ranch family whose home was destroyed by a fire Monday night.
"I've been fielding phone calls from people wanting to donate all day," said neighbor Kelly Rowjohn who has turned her home into a makeshift warehouse for all of the clothes, furniture and hygiene products the community has donated.
John and Melissa Watson were at home Monday night with their two daughters, Riley, 6, and Abby, 3, and their dog, Bailey, when they smelled smoke and realized their home was on fire.
"I knew it was bad when I saw the roof catch fire," said Rowjohn, who watched from her home on Kiteridge Drive across the street from the Watson's home. "But the fire department was amazing. The minute the fire was out, they formed a brigade and began rescuing the family's photos and other irreplaceable items. It was phenomenal to see."
Among the items rescued was a photo of John and Melissa Watson on their wedding day surrounded by notes of congratulations.
"This was the main art in their living room and I knew it was very special, so I was so relieved when I saw them carry it out. I took it right to my house. The frame was all melted but someone took it and had it reframed for them," said Rowjohn.
Neighbor Susan Antalek, who is helping Rowjohn coordinate the contributions to the family, said she's been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
"I can't tell you how many times we've cried over the graciousness, support and prayers of the community," she said. "Even people who don't live here have called and asked how they can help. John and Melissa feel very blessed to live in a community like ours."
Donations to date include a refrigerator and a washer and dryer, clothes for the entire family, hygiene products, shoes and purses.
A collection was even taken up at the FishHawk Ranch Christmas tree lighting ceremony Tuesday night.
"And we've had plenty of food provided," said Rowjohn.
Jaymer-Q Barbecue donated food on Wednesday while Beef O' Brady's in FishHawk Ranch fed the family and neighbors Tuesday night.
"In addition, Publix in FishHawk sent over party trays of food," said Rowjohn.
Local Realtor Brenda Wade donated her truck so the volunteers could transfer donations to a storage shed donated by FishHawk Storage. Brandon Rental donated tables to sort items.
Rowjohn also received a call from Raymond James Financial offering to adopt the family for Christmas.
And Jen and George Telesha of FishHawk Ranch and co-workers from Coca-Cola Refreshment donated gift cards, toys, clothes, school supplies and money.
"I work with some pretty awesome people," said Telesha.
Even Bailey the dog hasn't been ignored. Bloomingdale Pet Supply is providing food and toys for the family pet.
The family still has some needs, however, said Rowjohn. They're in need of a set of twin beds for the girls, storage bins to store the donated items in, children's medications, Bandaids and cleaning supplies.
One of the best things people can do is to purchase gift cards for the family to Wal-Mart and Target so the Watsons can replace the Christmas gifts for the girls that were lost in the fire, said Rowjohn.
The Watsons' church, St. Stephen Catholic Church, 5049 Bell Shoals Rd., Valrico, has gift cards available for residents to purchase for the Watsons and will see that the family receives them, said parish manager Tom Doyle.
For a complete list of needs, visit the website the neighbors have set up for the family, watsonfamilyhome.com. The website will allow residents to make donations through Paypal as well.
In addition, Formaggio's Pizza and Pizza Express will be donating 10 percent of the proceeds from sales during the next two Friday nights to the Watsons, and will match whatever is raised. Patrons just need to mention the Watson family to have the 10 percent donated.
For more information on how to help, contact Rowjohn at 655-9985.