On Wednesday, Melissa Ray found herself facing winter's coldest week with nothing but five bags stuffed with clothes, four young children filled with fear and a litany of prayers laden with hope.
By last night, a chain of generous offers from people who had heard Ray's story of sudden homelessness saved her from the street and landed her in a safehouse for abused women.
Ray, 24, came to Baltimore from South Carolina two weeks ago to escape her abusive boyfriend of four years. She said she loaded all her belongings into three duffel bags and two trash bags and boarded a Greyhound bus with her four daughters, ages 1 to 9.
She and her children stayed with a friend in East Baltimore for two weeks, until the landlord learned of the visit on Wednesday and threatened eviction if Ray and her four daughters did not get out. Faced with plummeting temperatures, Ray worked the telephone at her friend's house looking for shelter. She learned of the Health Department's emergency homeless shelter, Code Blue, at 1400 E. Federal St. and caught a ride to it Wednesday night.
"At first, it was scary," Ray said. "I'm not used to this."
She and her children were among the nearly 100 people who sought refuge from freezing temperatures that night at the Oliver Community Center building. By Thursday morning, Ray had found a place to stay at the House of Ruth, a shelter for women suffering from abusive relationships.
But the House of Ruth would not have space until later that evening, Ray said. The Code Blue shelter closed at 8 a.m., so she and her children lugged their belongings onto the operation's yellow school bus and rode it to My Sister's Place, a daytime center on Mulberry Street that serves women and children.
Tracy Pindell, director of My Sister's Place, said an anonymous caller inquired about Ray after reading of her plight in The Sun. The donor offered to pay for a hotel room for Thursday night. When the House of Ruth space did not come through, Ray took the offer.
Meanwhile, Pindell worked on reserving for Ray and her children a 31-day stay at a suburban home for domestic abuse victims. Officials at the home asked that its location not be disclosed for security reasons.
"They helped me out a lot here," said Ray, dressed in black sweat pants and a white sweat shirt. As she spoke, her four daughters played in a room filled with toys.
My Sister's Place workers helped Ray with her laundry, gave her and her children food, and provided her with counseling regarding her abusive boyfriend.
When My Sister's Place closed Thursday evening, Ray and her daughters went to the Mount Vernon Hotel on Franklin Street. The anonymous donor paid for a $79 room with two beds.
Yesterday, Ray and her daughters were back at My Sister's Place, waiting to see if Pindell could get them into the suburban home for abuse victims. She did. By 3:30 p.m., Ray and her daughters were on their way.
Ray's children will be placed in schools next week, and Ray, a former construction worker, will begin looking for a job.
"I'm not one to just sit around," she said. "I need to work."
She said she is certain that she will remain in the Baltimore area once she gets her life back together. For now, she said, she is taking life one day at a time, relying on her faith.
"I believe in God," she said. "That keeps me going."