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Foundation gives gift of auto leases, repairs to single moms, needy families

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 5 2012 9:30 p.m. MST

Sheila Richins, manager of Safe Harbor, hugs Earl DeWaal at DeWaal & Sons Body Shop in West Bountiful on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012. DeWaal has started a foundation, Cars That Care, that provides automobiles and auto repairs to single mothers and needy families.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

WEST BOUNTIFUL — Jessica Felix's commute home on public transportation took nearly 2½ hours every day. 

"It gets to the point my kids don't see me," Felix said, her eyes brimming with tears.

But her Jeep was broken down, and she couldn't afford the repairs. Still, she had to get to work stocking flowers at Costco stores from Ogden to Lehi. That has meant catching the bus at 5:38 a.m. each day, juggling work and her responsibilities as a single mother to two preschool-age children. 

"It takes a lot out of you," Felix said. "The kids want you home. You want to be home. And I can't be sad at work because I'm the flower girl."

On Wednesday, the Cars That Care Foundation lifted Felix's load by leasing her a donated car. The four-door car was refurbished at DeWaal & Sons Towing and Body Shop, owned by Earl DeWaal, who established the foundation 2½ years ago.

Rolling up a garage door to reveal the car, DeWaal beamed as he handed over the vehicle to Felix.

"This is your car," he said, bringing tears to Felix's eyes.

"It makes me not want to give up, this and because of my kids," Felix said.

Until nine months ago, she and her children were living in a domestic violence shelter.

Felix said she considers leasing the car a positive step on their collective journey.

"This is for my kids, too," she said.

Another young mother named Jenifer said she'd endured a difficult divorce and custody fight. On top of that, she has struggled with health problems and the loss of her job.

But as a mother of two children, not having a car was daunting. She has relied on friends for rides here and there. Recently, when her son crushed his hand in a door, a neighbor drove them to the emergency room.

"But then I was stranded there until I could get ride from someone else," said Jenifer, who asked that her last name not be used.

Recently, Jenifer said she worried that she couldn't find a ride to Utah County to join her sister for Thanksgiving dinner.

Jenifer had saved some money for a car, but she was worried she would not be able to buy a reliable vehicle among those advertising in classified ads. When she learned about the Cars That Care Foundation, she contributed her savings — $700 — to the foundation.

DeWaal help her obtain a reliable car, a Dodge Stratus.

"He's an angel. He's like a Christmas angel for me right now," she said.

DeWaal said he will use Jenifer's contribution to the foundation to help repair the car of the another single mother, Rosie, who also has two young children. Like Felix, Rosie is a client of the Safe Harbor domestic violence shelter in Davis County.

"That way, I'm paying forward," Jenifer said.

Rosie said once she receives her income tax refund, she plans to buy a new car and give her old car to the foundation to help someone else.

The foundation, which also provides free vehicle maintenance, repairs and insurance when needed, relies on donations of cars, cash and auto parts. The foundation retains ownership of the cars but leases them to people in need. They pay what they can, which ranges from modest payments to no payment. Recipients are taught how to maintain their cars.

"Our motto is, 'A hand up, not just another handout,'" DeWaal said.

DeWaal & Sons Towing and Body Shop was founded by DeWaal's father in 1947. The shop handles mechanical and body work and operates a tow business, as well as an impound lot. 

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