A week before Christmas, as the family and friends of Pearl Brown were just coming to grips with the news that she had been killed by a runaway Jeep outside Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, hundreds of ordinary people in the Baltimore region came to their aid.
Moved by accounts in The Sun of Ms. Brown's fight to get off welfare and make a better life for her five small children before she was killed, readers opened their hearts and checkbooks in an outpouring of generosity.
Now, her family wants to simply say, "Thank you."
"We couldn't afford to call everybody who helped or write them all notes, so we're not quite sure how to go about it," said Tyrone Wilson, 36, a close friend of the family.
"If you could just tell people we're very grateful for everything they did."
As of Friday, 731 individual donors -- including an entire shift of workers at the General Motors plant on Broening Highway who gave a dollar each -- had contributed checks totaling more than $40,000 to a trust fund at Merchant's Bank for the education of Ms. Brown's children, according to attorney Stephen L. Miles.
"It has been an absolutely extraordinary response," said Mr. Miles, who donated his firm's services to the family.
"We've gotten donations from city residents, suburbanites, black people, white people, young and old," he said. "For a couple days there, we could barely handle all the calls. I've never seen anything like it."
March Funeral Home agreed to provide a full burial for Ms. Brown at a fraction of the cost after reading about the family's plight in the newspaper.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's office interceded to provide a bigger house for Paulette Brown, 39, who took her sister's children into her McCulloh Street rowhouse -- along with her own daughter and five grandchildren -- after the accident. Barbara Nagrabski, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Housing Authority, said the family will soon be moving into roomier quarters.
Coppin State College pledged a free four-year education for Ms. Brown's eldest daughter, Shawnette, 11, so she can pursue her dream of becoming a nurse, said college spokesman Arthur Bugg.
Other donors contributed food, clothes, toys, eyeglasses, counseling, medical exams and beds for the children after reading that they were sleeping three to a bed at their aunt's house.
Pearl Brown, 30, died the morning of Dec. 18 as she walked down Preston Street on her way to a high-school equivalency class in West Baltimore with a shopping bag full of vanilla cookies and lollipops for her children.
A 1994 Jeep Cherokee driven by Derek Neal, 42, of the 3000 block of Piedmont Ave. ran a red light at Cathedral Street and swerved up onto the sidewalk after being rammed by another car in the intersection, police said. They said the Jeep flipped when it hit the curb and rolled over Ms. Brown, crushing her on the pavement, before coming to a stop against a brick abutment outside the Meyerhoff.
Police said there was no evidence that Mr. Neal was intoxicated at the time.
State motor vehicle records showed that Mr. Neal, who suffered minor injuries in the crash, was issued a speeding ticket in 1992 but otherwise has a clean driving record.
Assistant State's Attorney Sherrie Bailey said last week that the case is under review to determine if charges are warranted. At least one eyewitness to the accident told police that Mr. Neal was speeding when he ran a red light.
Mr. Neal has refused to comment about the accident.
As for the children, they are now adjusting to life with their aunt and cousins, new schools and a future that is much brighter, thanks to the kindness of strangers, Mr. Wilson said.
"We were down, way down," he said.
"We didn't even have money for a decent funeral for Pearl. And you just came out of nowhere and lifted us up."