Nonprofit has drive to help less fortunate

In an industrialized country, it can be hard to remember that having a vehicle is a luxury, not to mention a necessity for people that don’t live in the city. In today’s economy, not having a car with little access to public transportation makes it almost impossible to even get to the grocery store. Fortunately for New England residents, there is a program that is helping needy drivers get a car.

The Good News Garage is a program of Lutheran Social Services, one of New England’s largest social service organizations, that has provided more than 3,500 vehicles to less fortunate families in New England since its inception in 1996 in Burlington, Vt.

“Our goal is to help those folks in need,” said Bob Buckley, program manager for GNG. “Typically, it’s a single mom or dad. We supply them with a vehicle, free of charge.”

Every vehicle that GNG provides to their clients is donated, and GNG in New Hampshire has received more than 1,800 vehicles so far this fiscal year. Every vehicle qualifies for a tax deduction equal to fair market value, and the GNG accepts cars, vans, trucks, boats and even mopeds. Most GNG clients are referred from state Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or Families at Work (closed TANF clients within the last year) programs. Other clients are Jump Start clients that come to GNG through local organizations who act as sponsors for the individuals who need vehicles. With a waiting list of about 120 people without cars, the GNG works to match families with a car that works for them. For instance, a family with five kids will get a van or larger car, versus a two-seat truck.

“One out of four (cars) will make its way to a client,” said Susan Swain, marketing and development manager for GNG. “The typical car that goes to a client is 10 to 12 years old.”

Nashua resident Terri Rodriguez is a GNG client who was referred by Families at Work and received a 1993 Jeep Cherokee back in November. Rodriguez had reached out to GNG because she is a single mother of two children, a 2-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, who had just completed her licensed nursing assistant degree and was working at a temp agency while looking for a job in her field.

“I got the vehicle, and I was able to bring my kids to the doctor’s and get back and forth to interviews,” Rodriguez said. “It just made life so much easier.”

Since receiving the car, Rodriguez has landed a job working as a third-shift nursing assistant and was able to find a babysitter for her kids, and get them to the babysitter, for while she is at work.

“Things just started to come together,” Rodriguez said. “I can give my kids a future.”

Donated cars that the GNG receives are required to have a recent state inspection. The GNG then covers, on average, $1,400 in repairs for each car, and once given to a client, the GNG will cover the first oil change and any needed repairs, up to about 12-14 months. After the designated amount of time is up, GNG will even refer clients to local auto body shops that can get the client the needed repairs at a discount. The goal, according to Buckley, is having the client get at least 24-36 months out of the car.

“I have clients, five years now, who are still driving their cars,” Buckley said.

Rodriguez admits that her Jeep Cherokee was in “excellent condition” when she received it six months ago, and though it’s needed a few minor repairs, she has no complaints.

“If I didn’t have a vehicle, where would I be right now?” Rodriquez said. “I was very lucky.”

To donate a car to the GNG or to send a monetary donation, call 1-877-448-3288 or visit GNG is at 325 Merrill St. in Manchester.