There are families in Carroll who have to choose between buying food and repairing their cars.
That choice, while some can’t imagine it, is an obvious one for these families — their kids eat while their cars fall into disrepair.
Pro Auto Sales and Service in Carroll doesn’t want them to blow a tire, or worse, while traveling on icy roads to see their families, so for the third year in a row, the shop’s employees repaired some of those families’ cars for free.
Pro Auto works with New Opportunities to identify families — nine this year — who are a part of New Opportunities Head Start or Early Head Start programs, meaning they have kids who are 5 years old or younger, and who could use some help with their cars.
Then, bolstered by donations from suppliers and vendors as well as several individuals, the shop’s employees — including service technicians Kelly Bauer, Jeremy Brown and Justin Fowble — spend a Saturday completing whatever repairs those families’ cars need, at no cost.
This year, all cars received an oil change and were readied for winter; many received new wiper blades and tires, and others needed air filters or headlight bulbs. In past years, repairs also included brakes, shock absorbers and more.
“The biggest thing was just tires,” Pro Auto Co-owner Bobby Molak said. “People needed tires this year for some reason.”
As New Opportunities sits down with families to determine what their goals are and what they need, they often hear about car repairs that fall by the wayside as families prioritize rent, utilities and food.
“The families we’re working with don’t go out and buy 2018 vehicles,” said Tonya Weber, director of Head Start at New Opportunities. “They buy well-used vehicles with potentially 200,000 miles on them, or even more. They’re prone to have a lot of service needs.”
She added that some of the cars that came in for repairs this year had tires that were so bare, the employees at Pro Auto said they didn’t know how much longer they would have stayed on the cars.
“That leads to significant safety issues,” Weber said. “It’s not just the parents impacted; it’s the kiddos, the little ones in the car going back and forth to school, and this time of year, there might be more travel than normal.
“It’s a huge thing. Many of these families say, ‘This is something I couldn’t afford to do, even another time of the year.’ ”
The main goal of providing the repairs is to make cars safer, particularly for families with young kids, Molak said, adding that the service is particularly valuable right now, as families might be traveling for the holidays in wintry conditions.
“We’ve had people say, ‘We were going to go to Des Moines for Thanksgiving but couldn’t go because our car wasn’t functional,’ ” he said. “It’s little things like that; you try to provide a little sunshine for them so they can go see their families for the holidays.”
Weber noted that anyone in Carroll could be in the same position as these families financially if just a few factors changed in their lives.
“Any of us could find ourselves in that situation,” she said. “You just need that helping hand, and Pro Auto steps in.”
And they’re not planning on stopping.
“We absolutely plan to do this in the future,” Molak said. “We’ll do this as long as everyone’s wanting to participate in it and as long as New Opportunities can do it.
“We’re an automotive repair business; how can we give back? This is how we give back. To me, it seems like the right thing to do.”