A home for the holidays

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Keyona Thompson was surprised to find out that former Buccaneer Warrick Dunn, Habitat for Humanity and Publix teamed up to give her an unforgettable Christmas, Wed., Dec. 7.

BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Keyona Thompson thought she was taking her kids to see Santa while meeting up with Habitat for Humanity members who recently awarded her with the prestige of a new Habitat home. What she actually was lured to was indeed a bit more than she could have ever expected.

Thompson, a native of St. Petersburg and a graduate of Northeast High School, has worked hard for years to own her own home. Denied on her first attempt with Habitat for Humanity because of her credit rating, she has worked for the last year and a half to clear away the debt and to put in her service hours with the organization so that she can one day realize the dream of owning her own home.

With six kids, five of her own and raising her niece, Thompson was hesitant the time would come. But in preparation for the day her house will be built, she scrimped and saved, putting any bit of money she could in savings to help cover the closing costs when the time came to sign the papers.

“I wasn’t gonna go out of my way for Christmas,” said Thompson, “because this home meant more to me than just one Christmas.”

Keyona Thompson and Warrick Dunn

Keyona Thompson and Warrick Dunn

But standing on her home site along Fourth Avenue South in Childs Park, Thompson and her kids were surprised with a very generous gift. Publix Super Markets Charities (PSMC) played Santa by donating gifts to all of Thompson’s children and set up a surprise that left Thompson virtually speechless.

“I need tissue,” she said after hearing what her Christmas gift was.

With its recent announcement that PSMC plans to donate $5.5 million to Habitat for Humanity affiliates across the Southeast, roughly 60 more families like the Thompsons will have a chance to realize the dream of owning their own home.

“This has been my dream forever,” said Thompson fighting back tears. “My mama didn’t own her own home, neither did my grandma. It means so much.”

Publix Media & Community Relations Manager Brian West

Publix Media & Community Relations Manager Brian West

Further sweetening the pot was when former Tampa Bay Buccaneer running back Warrick Dunn, on behalf of his foundation’s program called Homes for the Holidays, stepped up to speak.

He’d heard about Thompson and her dedication to not only raising her own children, but also her willingness to take in a family member’s child. So Dunn’s charity, which helps out single-parent families working toward first-time homeownership, paid it forward, generously donating $5,000 to add to her down payment.

“I understand the struggle and I understand the sacrifice,” Dunn said to Thompson. His mom raised six kids herself, of which Dunn was the oldest. “I know my mom put it on the line every day to provide a safer environment for us kids and I can see the same will and passion in you.”

He couldn’t be more right.

A licensed practical nurse with Baywood Nursing Center in Midtown, Thompson plans to one day become a registered nurse so she can be in a better position to provide for her family. With the generous donations from Home for the Holidays and PSMC, Thompson is well on her way to affording going back to school.

Dunn handed out backpacks to Thompson’s girls, and signed footballs to her three boys. Publix and its donors compiled a gift basket full of household cleaners and various other products, along with a specialized carving board with the words, “Home Sweet Home” inscribed on it.

And although at this point Thompson was overwhelmed with the graciousness of all the donations, there were still more to come.

“When the house is complete, we’re also going to stock your pantry,” said Brian West, a media and community relations manager with Publix.

Which is a big deal for Thompson and her brood. “I don’t get food stamps, so for them to furnish our pantry, that’s major. I have to feed six kids.”

She also doesn’t receive any public housing assistance, so when Dunn dropped the bombshell that Home for the Holidays was also going to take care of furnishing her entire home, Thompson could hold in her tears no longer.

“It’s like extravagant,” she said. “I’m setting a foundation. It’s a fulfilling feeling, and it means a lot on so many levels.”

So as elected officials looked on, Thompson and her kids thanked everyone a multitude of times and dug into their cake adorned with a rendering of what their new home will look like with its six rooms and two baths. But it was the smiles on the faces of all involved, donors and recipients alike, that ensures this fairy tale Christmas surprise will bring a lifetime of gratitude and inspire hope in the lives of one very special woman and her family.

For more information on Habitat Humanity Pinellas, please go to habitatpinellas.org.

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