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Free oil change and check-up provided on vehicles owned by low-income families

Shane Steinbeisser, an employee with Midas Auto Specialists, changes the oil in a vehicle during a Car Care Saturday event at Ridgewater College. The event, sponsored by Heartland Community Action Agency, was part of the Helping People Get There program. Volunteers provided oil changes and vehicle tune-ups free of charge for low-income families. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Volunteer student mechanics and local businesses teamed up with public agencies Saturday to provide 30 low-income families with a free oil change and basic tune-up of their vehicle.

More free "Car Care Saturday" events will be held throughout the year at Ridgewater College in Willmar for families who are receiving public assistance and are clients of Workforce Centers in Kandiyohi, Renville and Meeker counties. Additional events may be held in Hutchinson.

"This is something that's been a dream at Heartland (Community Action Agency) for two years," said Rick Erickson, transportation manager of the Helping People Get There program. "It's a neat thing that so many organizations are pulling together," he said.

The program was designed to help individuals who are actively seeking jobs or have low-paying jobs, said Pat Jacobs, program manager for Kandiyohi County Job Service.

Having transportation is vital for people to get and keep to jobs, Jacobs said.

"Oil changes are the least expensive things to do to prevent your car from breaking down," Erickson said.

But regular maintenance of vehicles is easy to skip when funds are low, which can lead to breakdowns and costly repairs.

Not only did the participants get a free oil change, they also got some free information about basic vehicle maintenance and a gas voucher.

Ridgewater College hosted the event in its auto mechanic shop. Headed by instructor Jon Friton, about 15 current and former auto tech students worked during the 2½-hour event.

Friton "has a real commitment and heart for service projects," Jacobs said. That commitment extends to recognizing the value of teaching his students "to give back to the community," she said.

"We couldn't do it without the support from Jon Friton at Ridgewater College and the student volunteers," Erickson said. "We're grateful for the volunteers willing to give up a Saturday to help those less fortunate."

Midas Auto Specialists, Jergenson's Auto and O'Reilly Auto parts provided supplies, including oil filters. Cub Foods donated cookies.

Erickson said Heartland gets calls every day from people looking for assistance with vehicle maintenance.

He also gets calls from people who need a vehicle.

Since starting the "Helping People Get There" program two years ago, 38 cars have been given away.

The vehicles, donated by community residents, were given to low-income families who needed transportation to get off public assistance and into the workforce,

In a survey of the recipients, 95 percent said the vehicle helped them either keep or find a job and that their quality of life and independence had improved. They reported that the vehicles helped them get to and from work, daycare, appointments, school and church.

The survey also indicated 73 percent of the vehicle recipients are currently employed and no longer receive cash assistance from the county, 36 percent have a savings account to prepare for car repairs and 95 percent have had regular oil changes.

So far, 77 cars have been donated to the car giveaway program. A recent report, however, indicates a decline in the quality of some recently donated vehicles that had to be salvaged instead of given away to families who need reliable transportation.

Heartland is continuing the look for additional vehicles and funds to sustain the program.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750