Family of seven down on luck wins $25K national tax refund savings prize

By Rick Elmhorst, Anchor\Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, May 04, 2015, 4:21 PM EDT

The winnings from a contest will make a huge difference in the lives of a Lakeland family of seven.

Willis and Mary Bunch and their five children lived in a single motel room on Memorial Boulevard for nine months after Willis Bunch lost his landscaping job.

The family had no savings account and were forced to move from their apartment. The family often hid some of the children from the hotel management because it was against the rules for so many people to live in one room.

"Lot of times housekeeping would come to your room. The kids would have to run to the bathroom and pretend one of them was in the shower," said Willis Bunch.

Mary Bunch was devastated by the living conditions for her children.

"You want to get them out but you can't. You have to wait. You have to breath. That's all I can say. That's all I did was stay positive," she said.

Mary Bunch eventually got a job at a McDonalds across the street. Then the United Way, the Talbot House homeless ministry and an organization called Florida Prosperity Partnership got involved with the family. The United Way and Talbot House helped the family move into a nearby three bedroom apartment.

Florida Prosperity Partnership helped Mary Bunch fill out her tax return and convinced her to put part of her refund into a savings account. The goal of a savings account was to put the family in a secure housing and financial arrangement. That way if there was another job setback, the family wouldn't be left in a financial and housing crisis.

"People believe they can't save. We try to teach them they can't afford not to," said Polk Florida Prosperity Partnership executive director Debbie Prescott.

FPP also got Mary Bunch to enter a national United Way contest for tax refund savers. Bunch won the grand prize of $25,000 in the contest.

"(That's) a lot of money. It may not be to most people," said Mary Bunch. "To us it's like winning a million. Saving money is the key. This is going to allow us to continue to save."

Willis Bunch will use some of the money to buy a vehicle so he can find a job. The family will also use a small portion of the money to take their children to Legoland in Winter Haven.