Scott and Kathy Fink sat in their comfortable house and watched TV, relaxing on the final day of the Thanksgiving weekend.
They reflected on their good fortune, their five healthy children, Scott's stature as one of America's top automobile dealers. He had come so far from boyhood days in the Brooklyn projects.
The Finks had donated time and money to various charities around Tampa Bay. But what they were about to see on their TV would put them in another league.
On CBS, Scott Pelley reported on a "hidden America,'' a disturbing escalation in the number of homeless families since the recession hit in December 2007. He focused on a widowed, out-of-work carpenter in central Florida forced to take shelter with his two children in an old bread truck.
Even after they lost their home to foreclosure, even after five months in the truck and using convenience store bathrooms, the teenage brother and sister remained remarkably positive.
"It's my life,'' said Ariel, 15. "You do what you need to do, right?''
If you saw the piece, you remember it. When Kathy Fink saw it, she cried. Scott remembers what she said: "This is bad. We've got to do something.''
The next morning, Scott called his friend Rich Bekesh, an architect who owns Spring Engineering in Holiday. Bekesh's contributions to charities had recently earned him the title Philanthropist of the Year in Pasco County. He told Fink about a project proposed a few years earlier by Metropolitan Ministries to build transitional housing for families in crisis. It had been planned at the nonprofit organization's property just a few miles south of Fink's dealership, Hyundai of New Port Richey.
When the recession deepened, contributions dried up. The plan got put on hold but, as Fink said, "the need didn't go away. If anything, it got much worse.''
Fink began researching. He learned there are as many as 4,440 homeless people in Pasco on any given day. He recognized the contrast of his own world, where his modern showroom buzzes daily with customers. The economy might be suffering, but people still buy Hyundais. Fink's New Port Richey franchise ranks second of 815 nationwide. He also owns Hyundai dealerships in Wesley Chapel and DeLand and Mazda of Wesley Chapel.
Years ago he decided that every time he sold a car, he would put $10 in an account for various events and charities. That adds up when you sell 700 cars a month. He figures his company has contributed about $200,000. Framed letters of appreciation fill the wall next to his parts department — Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Angelus, YMCA, Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Youth and Family Alternatives, St. Joseph's Children's Hospital and many more.
But the images of children living in woods inspired the Finks to do more. Kathy volunteered as a reading mentor at Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa. She studied the 40-year-old faith-based agency.
"I was amazed,'' she said. "They are such a well-oiled machine operating with limited funds. I had no doubt this was a place we should give our money.''
In Pasco County there are few corporate headquarters, few people who can write a big check. The Finks agreed they could afford to make an impact.
They settled on $100,000.
They expect it will kickstart the plan to design at least 20 transitional housing units at a former church property where Metropolitan Ministries volunteers work with the local homeless coalition.
They also expect to construct a full-service restaurant on the site to serve as a training ground for residents. Metropolitan president Tim Marks hopes the contribution will stimulate other sources from the business community and the county government.
He hopes to have an overall plan developed in three months.
"We're grateful for the Finks' leadership,'' he said. "We just don't want to build something that we can't support long term.''
Fink, 51, envisions a model that works in Tampa, where families have been able to transition to self-sufficiency within six months.
"I know this isn't going to solve the problem of homelessness completely,'' he said, "but it can make a dent. It's one small step and I have to tell you, it feels good.''