It all started Sept. 9 when a family dressed in pajamas walked into Shoney’s in Lebanon. Tony, Lisa and their 6-, 9- and 11-year-old children ended up in Lebanon when a news station in their Tampa, Florida home reported they might die if they stayed.
The family headed north and found high gas prices and motels that were either full or charging extra for families with more than four people.
When they reached Lebanon, they found more of the same. However, an oil leak in one car and a dead battery in another forced them to stay.
The family slept in their car for three nights until they were able to find a room at the Knight’s Inn after telling the clerk they only had one child.
When they went into Shoney’s that morning, they were exhausted and dressed in pajamas. Waitress Salina Marshall noticed their appearance and asked the family if they were traveling.
“We get a lot of people who come in with their pajamas actually, and they’re usually just traveling somewhere,” said Marshall. “When I asked [Lisa] if they were traveling, she said they were, but it was to get away from the hurricane in Tampa. She started telling me all about what they had been through, and I could feel my heart keep getting heavier and heavier.”
Marshall told the rest of the wait staff at Shoney’s about the family’s problems, and they all agreed to chip a little bit in and buy the family’s breakfast. They also told the family to come back the next morning for another free meal. Marshall said she still wanted to do more to help, though.
She contacted Tina O’Connell, fellow waitress’ mom and Lebanon resident who Marshall felt could help the family. O’Connell said she would do what she could to help, but she wasn’t sure to what that would amount.
“I just decided to post their story on The Main Hip [Lebanon] Facebook page and see if anybody could help,” said O’Connell. “People started contacting me asking what kind of stuff they needed. It was pretty amazing.”
Just 24 hours later, O’Connell and Marshall had each received several Facebook messages from people around Wilson County willing to do whatever they could to help the family.
The Snow White Drive-In held a donation night where citizens came to meet the family, as well as donate whatever they could to help them get back home.
Auto Zone donated a battery for their car, and NYNY Pizza in Mt. Juliet offered free pizza.
Many more Wilson County citizens gave money, gas and gift cards and food. One Lebanon resident who asked to remain nameless paid for the family’s stay at the Knight’s Inn.
The family was able to go back to Tampa on Sept. 13, thanks to the donations and help of Wilson County residents. O’Connell said he incident gave her faith in the goodness of the community.
“So many gave, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart,” said O’Connell. “This family entered my life at a time when I needed to see the true meaning of life. Watching my community flock to help this family was medicine for my soul.”