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Repairers to the Rescue: Charitable BodyShop Owners

Collecting food for the hungry and building homes for the homeless may not seem heroic compared to pulling a child from a burning building, but they are heroic – especially to the people on the receiving end of your charitable acts

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On the way to work last month, I was listening to an all-news radio station and a particular story caught my ear. There’s a housing complex in Orange County, Calif., that works with low-income families. The housing complex is a converted motel, and most of the units are nothing more than a single room with a hot plate and a refrigerator. The director of the facility said most of the residents only earn minimum wage. Since the cost of a room is $150 per week, that leaves a person with nothing after he pays the rent. Many of these families are on some sort of governmental assistance, but it’s still not enough.

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During the school year, kids at the complex are fed two daily meals at one of the area elementary or middle schools. In the past, the Orange County Rescue Mission donated food to the shelter once a week, but this year their donations fell more than 60 percent – so they could only deliver food once every three weeks. Consequently, these kids (186 of them) had no food until dinnertime for two weeks.

I was appalled when I heard this story.

When I arrived at work, I gathered my team together and told them about these children. I passed around an empty coffee can, and we collected $300. (It was pay day that day). Then I called the other center managers in Los Angeles and Orange counties. They also were moved by the plight of these kids and collected money from their employees. Within three days, the employees of these seven Caliber Collision Centers collected more than $2,000.

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With money in hand, I went to Costco and filled a van to the top with food. Tom Gepfert – from our corporate office – and I made the food run.

When we arrived at the complex, an army of kids came out to help us unload. Most were between ages 5 and 9. We asked them if they wanted some cookies in return for helping us, and they turned us down. Why? Because, they said, the food could only be given out on Thursdays and it wouldn’t be fair to the kids who weren’t there.

After we unloaded the food, the kids came up to both of us, gave us hugs and wouldn’t stop thanking us. Tom and I are both more than 6 feet tall, weigh about 225 pounds each and are older than 50. Yet when we got back into the van to leave, both of us had glassy eyes – in this day and age, there are still children going hungry.

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I’m writing this story not for what we did, but for what you can do. Chuck Sulkala, owner of Acme Auto Body, collected more than $60,000 and built a house last April in Kansas City with 300 volunteers from the Collision Industry Conference. Kelly Roe of Carty’s Collision spends two nights a week teaching mentally challenged children how to read. What about you?


Contributing Editor Toby Chess, AAM, is director of technical training for Caliber Collision Centers. He’s also the Los Angeles I-CAR chairman, an I-CAR instructor and a certified ASE Master Technician.

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