Martin NeSmith knows about being a car dealer in tough times. He opened his first store in 1973 during the OPEC oil embargo and rode out the subsequent recession.
"Oh, it was tough back then," said NeSmith, 62. "But I think right now, during this particular time, I see more people in need than I did back then."
As the owner of two dealerships in suburban Savannah, Ga., NeSmith has given back to his community in several ways. In December, he and his two sons, Demere and Chad, organized a used-car giveaway for local citizens in need.
The "Driven to Give" campaign sparked hundreds of nominations, out of which three families were chosen to receive cars.
One winner was Michelle Crumbly, who is caring for her cousin's son and her own three daughters. Her middle daughter has a medical condition that causes seizures, and Crumbly said that without a car it was hard to get to doctors appointments.
"It was a blessing," said Crumbly, who received a brown 2006 Chevrolet Impala from NeSmith. "I know God was looking down at me, and I guess he saw I needed one."
NeSmith has Chevrolet, Buick and GMC franchises. "In a small community, you have to give back," he says. "Our responsibility, not only as car dealers and as businessmen, but as human beings, is to give back to people who are less fortunate or in need."
Beyond his "Driven to Give" campaign, NeSmith and his employees have run a Toys for Tots drive for 15 years. Last year they collected and delivered $40,000 worth of toys to area children.
He also awards college scholarships and gives school supplies to cash-strapped districts. Said NeSmith: "It's not just an obligation. It's a privilege."