California mega-dealer David Wilson estimates that he and his dealerships have given away about $10 million over the years, but it’s one of his smaller outlays that has commanded attention the past two years.
In his community in California’s Orange County, Wilson has become what local media have dubbed a “layaway angel.” Just before Christmas, Wilson selects a Kmart near one of his dealerships and anonymously pays off layaway accounts with balances of less than $100.
In 2011, the effort cost $16,000 and helped 360 people bring Christmas presents to family and friends. In 2012, the tally was $18,000 and about 400 people. TV news accounts showed customers showing up to make payments and finding out they could take their items home.
“People were coming in and crying their eyes out,” Wilson said. “It was very rewarding.”
For Wilson, knowing his donation would pay off presents for children was key. Helping poor children is a theme to Wilson’s giving. Growing up poor in Iowa, without running water on his family farm until he was 14, Wilson worked hard to get ahead. He now wants to help others do the same.
One of his biggest charitable efforts is supporting the Orangewood Children’s Foundation, launched to raise money for an emergency shelter for abused and neglected children.
The foundation now manages the David Wilson Endowment Fund, a $1 million-plus scholarship fund built by donations from Wilson’s friends and employees. The money is earmarked for former residents of the children’s home. One former recipient is now a judge, though the fund’s emphasis is on vocational training for students who want to become nurses or mechanics.
Wilson, displaying a bit of that Iowa farm boy upbringing, said: “We need people who can fix things, build things and do things.”
David Wilson owns 3 Car Pro Show dealer affiliates, Ford of Orange and Mazda of Orange, both in Orange, California and Right Toyota in Phoenix.