Thanks to the kindness of strangers and, evidently, a dash of holiday spirit, an infant who was seriously injured in a raccoon attack inside a North Philadelphia rooming house will have a safe place to live when she gets out of the hospital, according to the baby's uncle.
By 4 p.m. on Christmas Day, 598 people had donated a total of $18,736 to a GoFundMe page set up to help the family of 4-month-old Journi Black find a suitable home to rent.
"Hi, I just want to thank each and [every one] of you from the bottom of my heart," Journi's mother, Ashley Rodgers, posted to the page. "I really appreciate all the help we are getting."
Rodgers and the baby's father, Sam Black, both 28, spent Sunday at Journi's side at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children.
Rodgers said she never expected such an outpouring. Throughout the day, people showed up at the hospital to drop off toys and clothes for Journi in hopes of brightening the family's Christmas.
"I'm good. She's good," Rodgers said during a phone interview, as her daughter cooed in the background.
The goodwill and generosity of donors came on the heels of an Inquirer and Daily News column by Jenice Armstrong on the family's plight.
West Philadelphia resident Heather Klusaritz, who donated $80, said that as a mother of two boys, age 9 and 6, she instantly felt for the family.
"As a mother myself, I can't imagine having to search for safe and affordable housing for my kids and to have to worry about the safety of my children and my home," she said Sunday.
Black said he's been so consumed with his daughter's recovery that he hasn't really had time to think about anything else.
"We are just taking it one day at a time," Black said. "My focus is getting my daughter back to full strength and making sure her scars and everything is healed so she can live the rest of her beautiful life.
"All the money in the world is not going to bring back what happened to my daughter – that won't change the scars, the nightmare that she had to go through," he said.
The attack unfolded on Dec. 20 at about 8:30 p.m. Jouni was asleep on a bed inside a home on the 2100 block of North 22nd Street. Suddenly, Rodgers heard her daughter's screams. She rushed into the room to find Journi on the floor with blood all over her face and clothes. The raccoon had raked her daughter's face and eyes with its claws, leaving gashes, the mother said.
On Thursday, the baby underwent four hours of surgery. She was left with 65 stitches to her face and head.
Rodgers had just moved into the house the day before with Journi and her son, Jordan, 6. Rodgers, a security guard, said it was all she could afford at $375 a month.
Officials from the Department of Licenses and Inspections last week issued a zoning violation to the property owner for running a rooming house. They also ordered the landlord to obtain a rental license and to repair broken windows and damaged walls and ceilings to keep out pests.
The baby's uncle, Kenneth McDuffie, said Sunday that the GoFundMe donations will be used to help the family find housing.
"It will be safe. It will be secure. It will be wildlife- and rodent-free, a place where they are comfortable and they are safe," McDuffie said. "We can't always predict what is going to happen in the future, but we want to make sure that [Rodgers] and her family are safe."
It was unclear Sunday night when Journi would be released from the hospital, Black said. The father was heartened to see his daughter eating baby food and giggling.
"As long as it takes, we'll be here for her," he said.