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Car care ministry gets people where they need to go

Car care ministry gets people where they need to go

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Car care ministry gets people where they need to go

July 20, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0705}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

Patti Gaddis relies on her 1991 Honda Accord to commute 100 miles a day from Titusville to Orlando for work.

A volunteer from the Indian River City United Methodist Church’s Car Care Ministry gets down and dirty to fix a car. Photo courtesy of Indian River City United Methodist Church. Photo #07-0626.

Fortunately, her car makes it there every time, thanks to volunteers in the Car Care Ministry at Indian River City United Methodist Church.

“I’m still going strong,” Gaddis said. “I just can’t believe it. I feel like they said a little blessing over it.”

At the very least, the volunteers who maintain and repair her car have blessed it with their wisdom and careful hands since Gaddis first arrived two years ago at the church with her newly purchased, but broken-down, vehicle.

A single mother with two children in college at the time, Gaddis learned about the church’s ministry through her brother and sister-in-law, who urged her to try it out. As members of the church, they knew the ministry provided car maintenance and service at little to no charge.

“It’s just such a blessing to me,” Gaddis said. “If something goes wrong with my car, I can find out what it is with them. … It’s done with so much love and generosity.”

Church members Ray, 70, and Alice Chalfante, 60, envisioned and founded the ministry more than five years ago with the blessing of the church and a handful of volunteers. The mission of the ministry is to provide free vehicle repairs, low-cost parts and sometimes entire vehicles to anyone in need.

“My wife said to me, ‘You could do a lot of good if you could start a car care ministry,’ ” Ray said.

Since launching the ministry, Ray, a retired engineer from Kennedy Space Center, and Alice, a “domestic engineer” of many years, have worked with numerous volunteers every Saturday diagnosing and repairing car problems. Alice’s years as a single mom motivate her to serve as information gatherer, finding out about each vehicle’s problems and the owners’ financial situation.

“There was a time in my life before I met Ray … I was going through a separation and a divorce, and I could not afford the car repairs and I was just desperate,” Alice said. “When Ray and I met, God sent me my own mechanic.”

Meanwhile, Ray’s hobby of setting up a car workshop in his home garage gave him the necessary experience and extra tools to use.

“I used to work with my father in his shop, and I worked in a garage for four or five years,” he said.

Now, the ministry serves all types of clients — single parents, widows, elderly couples on fixed incomes.

“We’ve repaired over 800 cars, and in January we had a big birthday celebration,” Ray said. “It’s been pretty near 50 cars that have been donated to us and that have been donated to others.”

The car repair shop is open at the church from 9 a.m. to noon every Saturday. Ray tries to reserve Fridays for overhauling donated vehicles to make them available to people in need.

“We never turn anything down with wheels,” Ray said. “(We take) bikes, motor scooter, cars, trucks, vans.”

If a donated vehicle is in very poor condition and can’t be overhauled, Ray sells the car to a junkyard for scrap metal and parts and then uses the money to support the ministry.

A typical Saturday at Indian River City United Methodist Church includes cars lined up for repairs by the church’s Car Care Ministry. Photo courtesy of Indian River City United Methodist Church. Photo #07-0627.

On average, the church receives four or five requests each week from people who need an automobile, according to the church’s administrator, Terry Coon, who facilitates the paperwork aspect of the operation.

“We try to match a car to a family,” he said.

Coon takes responsibility for interviewing the person or family in need and determining important information, such as their ability to pay for car insurance and whether or not they are properly licensed drivers. If they don’t have the money to complete these processes, the church will still work with them, but doesn’t simply hand out the money they may need.

“Our feeling is you have to teach them a little bit,” Coon said. “They have got to come up with the money on their own.”

The church also tries to educate the recipients on car care and maintenance.

“(We) show them how to look at these things so they won’t have their cars break down on them,” Coon said.

The church does not guarantee the length of time a donated car will work, Coon said. Neither does it keep track of the way the recipients use the vehicles once the cars leave the church.

“We just hope it’s enough to get them over the (financial) hump,” Coon said. “We consider it a gift once we give it away.”

The ministry has never cost the church any money because the car care operating budget comes from the sale of scrap vehicle donations, as well as cash donations.

“The congregation is proud of the (ministry) … we are the only church I know of in the area that will help anybody out anywhere,” Coon said. “It’s become brutal out there (in the heat), but here are these guys underneath the vehicles out there.”

The “guys” are the volunteer team who give of their time to provide the free labor needed to fix the vehicles. The repairs and parts they work on include oil changes, brakes, tune-ups, exhaust work, radiators, water pumps, starters, lighting work, serpentine belts, hoses, fuel pumps, seats, window lift motors, door locks and more.

Ray teaches and trains the volunteers so they can independently work on the repairs whenever possible, and several teenagers have been able to learn the ins and outs of car repairs under Ray’s leadership, Alice said.

“We praise the volunteers and we praise (the church) because they backed us 100 percent. And if it wasn’t for them, what was laid on our hearts wouldn’t be out there,” Alice said.

Car repairs and vehicle donations open the door for outreach as well, the couple says.

“I would say probably at least 70 percent of (the clients) do not come from this church,” Alice said. “Our outreach ministry will sit there and talk with our recipients.”

Recipients of the donated and overhauled vehicles include individuals, families and even a few churches and organizations. All recipients are invited to church. Gaddis is someone who accepted the invitation and is now a member.

Ray and Alice hope the ministry will continue to grow. Possibilities for the future include a covered garage, a vehicle lift, a full-time mechanic, a large air compressor, plumbing and a towing service with a rollback tow truck.

“I want to see all these things at our fingertips,” Ray said.

The Florida Conference has also noticed this unique ministry. The Chalfantes were guest speakers at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event in June where they described their ministry.

“It was a great pleasure to do our presentation over there, and I thought it was very well received,” Ray said. “It (is) a passion for us and it’s not work and it’s what God wants us to do.”

Individuals who would like to make a donation to the Car Care Ministry or learn more about it may contact Coon at the church at 321-267-7922.

This article relates to Outreach.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.