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HCAA helps people get back on the road

Until recently, Shawn and Valys Provost were mired in financial hardship and unable to purchase a vehicle. So Shawn, a kitchen manager at Swan’s Café in Litchfield, was forced to walk over a mile to and from work each day. The young couple was receiving free bus passes as part of their county assistance. If Valys needed to get groceries or take one of her two children to the doctor, she would have to take the bus.

“It was horrible,” Valys admitted. “I would  bring my two kids (daughter Ruby is 5 and son Richard is 8) on the bus with me, and then when I was done getting groceries or wherever I needed to go, we’d have to wait outside for the bus to pick us up to bring us back home. My daughter has severe autism and can’t handle outside noises ,so she would be screaming while we waited.”

That’s when a representative from Job Services in Litchfield contacted Heartland Community Action Agency (HCAA) and got the ball rolling … or, more like got the motor running.

HCAA has a donation program called Helping People Get Their Car and has currently helped numerous families in Kandiyohi, Meeker, McLeod and Renville counties. The agencies are based in Willmar, Litchfield, Hutchinson and Olivia.

Through the program, individuals will donate a vehicle to Heartland. It might be an old vehicle with a lot of miles on it and badly in need of repair, a vehicle that was damaged in an accident, or one in good shape that came from someone just wanting to help someone in need.

“We get all kinds of vehicles,” said Jason Haug, an outreach manager for Heartland. “Sometimes the vehicle is in such bad shape that we wonder how the people even got it to us. But we’ve also received some vehicles that are so nice that we will sell them and get enough money to purchase vehicles to help four or five families. If we get a car that’s not worth fixing, we’ll sell it to a junk dealer and use the money to repair another vehicle.”

Vehicles donated are tax deductible.

“Since the current program started five years ago,” Haug said, “we have had 161 vehicles donated, and we were able to repair and give out 84 of them.”

Heartland has partnered with WorkForce Centers in its four-county area. Employment specialists at the WorkForce Centers work closely with and monitor clients to ensure that they are actively seeking employment and also to identify any potential barriers to employment. To be eligible for a vehicle, a family must be low income, receiving cash assistance from the county, have a verifiable job start or be in danger of losing a job because of lack of transportation, and show proof of the acquisition of vehicle liability insurance.

The Provosts qualified for the program and received a 2002 Dodge Caravan with new tires and a full tank of gas at the end of May. The program also paid for the license and registration for the vehicle, as well as the first six months of insurance. From then on, it will be up to the Provosts to maintain the insurance, gas and any repairs.

“It was like a gift from God,” expressed Valys. “It changed our lives. I didn’t expect anything this nice. We just were in need of anything to drive. At that point I would have taken a Pinto.”

Heartland has also partnered with automobile repair shops in the counties. The repair shops will inspect the donated vehicle and give a repair estimate. If the vehicle can be repaired affordably, the repair shops offer their parts and labor at half price.

“The only stipulation is that the shops only will repair the vehicles during their down time,” said Haug.

Each family receiving a vehicle through Heartland’s program will also receive financial training for such things as how to manage a budget, how to differentiate between a need and a want, and the importance of saving money. And the family is also responsible for maintaining their vehicle. “We have helped a lot of people get off assistance because they have to show that they are seeking employment once they get a vehicle,” said Haug. “And it’s much easier for them to apply for jobs with a vehicle.”

When Heartland employees followed up with those families receiving a vehicle, the numbers were very encouraging: 95 percent of the families in the program reported that the vehicle given to them assisted them in either finding a job or maintaining the one they had, 80 percent were no longer receiving county cash assistance, 70 percent were maintaining a working budget, 31 percent were able to open a savings account, and 97 percent are taking their vehicle in for a regular oil change.

“I’m proud to say that the program is working very well,” said Haug. “We’ve made a lot of people happy, but we couldn’t have done it without people willing to donate their car.”

To learn more about this program, visit

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