WEST VALLEY CITY — "Five, four, three, two, one!"
The black fabric hiding a vehicle slips off.
Darlene Lefevre gasps, tears in her eyes, exclaiming cries of disbelief and gratitude as she slowly walks around her new 2015 Chrysler 200.
It's always exciting to see people win a car on game shows, but it's profoundly heartwarming to see one donated to a woman who, three months ago, was desperately trying to find a place for her 10-year-old daughter to sleep safely.
"I would just like to thank everybody for literally saving my life and my daughter's life," Lefevre said. "I'm still having a hard time believing that this happened. I'm in shock that they would do this for me."
Lefevre and her daughter, Sophia, lost their home in March this year. They soon found help through Family Promise Salt Lake, which works with families experiencing homelessness. On Wednesday, Geico and Higgins Body and Paint in West Valley City donated the refurbished car to the little family, after they were nominated to Geico by JD Donnelly, executive director of Family Promise.
"They don't have any transportation, so thanks to the great folks at Geico and this event today, they'll have a car and that'll help Sophie get to school and help Darlene with appointments and all those aspects," Donnelly said. "This is a big step forward for a family that really needed somebody to help."
Family Promise, which has been in Salt Lake City for 23 years, works with 13 homeless families at a time to help them reach self-sufficiency. It has over an 80 percent success rate for families remaining housed two years after they've graduated from the program, Donnelly said. They recently helped Lefevre and her daughter move from a shelter to housing.
"That program, I can't tell you," Lefevre said. "I was so scared when I went in. They were very loving, and they took the burden off of me, being homeless."
Donnelly said Lefevre was "the perfect candidate" for the car donation because she always goes the extra mile to help and coach other homeless families in the program.
Shane Wheeler, claims assistant vice president for Geico, explained how the car donations work: The company donates a Geico-owned car from an accident or theft recovery, and local body shops and other businesses help refurbish the vehicle. Both Geico and the body shop look over the nominations from the community and choose who they think is most deserving.
"There was not a lot of car-related charities, so this is unique in that we're giving a car to somebody," Wheeler said. "The level of access that it gives you in terms of getting to school, getting to work, getting to the grocery store, it really makes an impact on people's lives."
Lefevre said she's especially grateful to the companies' donation because of the impact it will have on her daughter.Comment on this story
"Children don't deserve to be part of (homelessness)," she said. "They're just along for the ride. They have no control over that. These people, they understand that and they want to bring the family into their loving arms and say, 'It's OK, we're gonna help you.'"
Lefevre said their new car will enable her to find a job, get her daughter to school more easily, and get to her vital doctor and therapist appointments.
"I'm just going to have to work really hard to make sure this car is really well taken care of and work really hard to improve my life to thank them for doing this for me," she said.