Homeless kids inspire one dad to help

SPRING HILL — Eleven-year-old Destiny Walker came home from Fox Chapel Middle School last fall to tell her dad about a sock and underwear collection for homeless kids in Hernando County.

Louis Walker was shocked.

"That's the first thing I heard about homeless kids," said Walker, 42.

Since then, he has learned that there are well over 400 children in the Hernando County School District who are listed as homeless. Also, a large number of the babies born in Hernando County come into the world addicted to drugs.

"I was just, like, wow! I couldn't believe it," said the father of two.

Walker, a driver for Hungry Howie's Pizza and Subs, went out and bought socks and underwear for the school drive. But thoughts of homeless and needy kids continued to play on the fringes of his mind.

He wanted to do more.

After a lot of research, including books from the public library about business start-ups, particularly on the Web, Walker launched an Internet-based fundraising business — hernandofundraiser.com.

To date, he has signed up some 450 retailers and service businesses. If a visitor to the website orders from one of those outlets, Walker is paid 2 percent to 4 percent by the company. He turns all of those earnings over to such organizations as Devereux Kids and several ministries that provide food and meals to the homeless.

"My dream," Walker said, "is to give money to anybody who needs it, to feed these kids."

For now, Walker says, he takes no salary from the proceeds.

"I'm not that bad off," he said of himself and his family. "We're not struggling. We're two to three paychecks from being homeless, like 95 percent of the country."

Eventually, Walker would like to generate enough sales to rely on the website for a base salary of a couple hundred dollars a week, which is what he calculates his family needs to live on.

So far, Web hits and proceeds haven't amounted to a lot. Proceeds are approaching several hundred dollars. Walker said most companies don't issue him a check until his fees reach $100.

The site went online in December. Prior to that, Walker invested a lot of hours cajoling companies to sign on.

"I got turned down a lot," he said.

Conversely, some of the companies offered discounts or coupons to people making purchases through hernandofunding.com.

Among the businesses Walker has managed to list: ESPN Shop, pro sports gear stores, the Sports Authority, Blockbuster Video, Dollar General Store, carWOO!, beezid, Sesame Street, Sealy and Advance Auto Parts.

Ordering doesn't always mean having to wait for a delivery, Walker pointed out. For instance, after filing an order to Advance Auto Parts, a customer can pick it up at the nearest store within an hour or so.

To save people time online, Walker said, the site includes categories on which to click, including automotive, event tickets, sports, pool/patio/hot tub, travel, music/DVDs/games and clothes/shoes.

Walker has marketed the site mostly through word of mouth up to this point.

On future Saturdays, Walker hopes to spread the word about the site as he volunteers to help collect school supplies for the Tools for School program, organized by Devereux Kids and the Boys & Girls Club of Hernando County. This Saturday, there will be a drive at the Winn-Dixie store at Cortez Boulevard and Commercial Way in Weeki Wachee.

Walker says as more people learn about hernandofundraiser.com, they will take advantage of it and help needy children at the same time.

"You already buy stuff," he said. "You could save money and give at the same time. Just push that one button, and you could be giving back to the community."

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

Homeless kids inspire one dad to help 07/19/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 19, 2012 8:32pm]

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