RACS client receives car, nonprofits get look at new program

Anthony Conway is partnering with nonprofits in Jefferson City to bring its used car programs to the area.

Conway, who runs Cars 4 Columbia’s donated car program, met with the public at the United Way of Central Missouri offices late Thursday morning. He delivered a car — a 2010 Pontiac G6 — intended for a client of the Rape and Abuse Crisis Office and shared details about his organization with area nonprofits.

Like its counterpart in Columbia, its latest effort, Cars 4 Jefferson City, is designed to serve low-income Cole County residents and families challenged by transportation. Through nonprofit partners, the program provides access to donated vehicles to help solve personal transportation issues. May also repair vehicles for non-profit clients.

The organization may substitute a service offered by a Jefferson City-based nonprofit organization. For the better part of a decade, Working Wheels for Working Families has been providing free used vehicles to families in Cole County.

Working Wheels got its start — accepting donated cars and repairing them — in 2013. The Car Guys, a garage at 406 Monroe St., did the necessary repairs on the vehicles and customers paid what they could afford for them.

But in 2020, after the sudden death of Lori Smith, the nonprofit’s director, Working Wheels disappeared from the public eye. State records show the organization officially dissolved in July 2021, leaving a potential need in Jefferson City.

Ann Bax, president of the United Way of Central Missouri, said Thursday that her organization was surprised to learn that Working Wheels had closed its doors. It was a reliable, helpful non-profit organization that the United Way gave grants to (which helped with operations) over the years.

Transportation has been a big need in Jefferson City for years and remains a big need, Bax said.

United Way on Thursday was trying to help Conway build relationships with several of its partner agencies or connect with Jefferson City resources.

“Transportation is an identified barrier (to permanent employment),” Conway told more than a dozen listeners. “People work extremely hard just to get a job, then they get fired because they can’t get to work.”

Conway’s added mass transit cannot meet the personal needs of every resident.

For a community to be transport efficient, it must use all modes of transport. The bus system works very well for some, but not for all.

To date, Conway said, Cars 4 Columbia has donated 36 vehicles to Columbia residents. But more interesting to Conway was how many people who needed transportation had a car but couldn’t afford repairs for it. His organization has repaired more than 400 cars, he said.

Conway owns a car dealership and has mechanics working for him. One, Josh Remus, sometimes goes to customers’ homes to fix their cars. He reminded listeners that all efforts are done through a non-profit organization.

“Our focus is on the car donation program because the only real solution for a person who has a transportation problem is (for them to have) their own car,” he said. “Not just a vehicle, but a reliable vehicle.”

Once the organization realized it could help more people by repairing their vehicles, it started doing that too.

Cars 4 Jefferson City can help someone, he said. Donated cars are not a “forever” solution to a person’s transportation problems, Conway said. What donated cars do is buy the driver some time to get a better car.

The program is modeled after Good News Garage — a program started in Vermont. For about 25 years, the Good News Garage nonprofit program has provided more than 5,500 families across Vermont with donated vehicles, according to its website https://goodnewsgarage.org.

Conway said customers are responsible for paying for the vehicles or the cost of repairing them. A number of nonprofits, he said, are helping with the cost of repairs.

On Wednesday, staff from a nonprofit approached Cars 4 Columbia with a customer whose car had a list of 20 needed repairs. The customer has already invested more than $2,300 in repairs to the vehicle, he said.

The car wasn’t worth $2300, it was like a house known as a “money pit”. He said many customers spend thousands of dollars on vehicles but still end up with no transportation afterward.

So many people are financially trapped by a car that will never meet their transportation needs, Conway said. So Conway is considering putting her in another car at a discounted price, he said. This is another way to correct the situation.

“Our job is to sit down with a (nonprofit) organization and find a solution,” Conway said. “We may not know what that solution will be, but we will find it.”