BELLEVUE, Wash. – Without a car of his own, James Southern would spend four hours on a bus – two hours each way – traveling to and from work.
Thanks to an all-volunteer ministry called the Auto Angels, he does not have to worry about such a long bus commute. The group fixed up a donated Ford Taurus and sold it to Southern for $500.
“It’s my Godsend,” said Southern, who receives housing through an Eastside homeless program. “It’s good to have organizations like this to help you get back on your feet.”
The Auto Angels put on a five-hour car clinic nearly every Saturday inside the underground garage at First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue. The volunteer mechanics, who have been tinkering with cars for as long as they can remember, perform oil changes, replace tires and address other mechanical problems to help people who may not otherwise be able to afford the repairs.
Clients do not have to pay a dime for labor. They simply pay for the parts.
“They’re very, very wise,” said client Lyric Hammond. “They’re like the grandpas I’ve never had.”
During a recent clinic, a group of volunteers huddled around a sputtering Honda Civic that could barely make it inside the garage. They quickly diagnosed a clogged catalytic converter, a repair that might normally cost up to $1,000, said volunteer Jeff Jaynes. But in this case, the client will only pay about $400, the cost of the part.
And the only form of payment the volunteers need is the look on people’s faces when they leave the garage with a healthy automobile.
When the clinics began seven years ago, they were largely a gray-haired happening. But more and more youngsters are now showing up to soak up the wisdom of their elders.
“It’s a good learning experience,” said Jeff Jaynes Jr., as he worked alongside his father.
“What about spending time with your dad?” his father quickly interjected.
“Well, I was about to say that, too, but you beat me to it,” Junior replied with a laugh.
In addition to repairing cars, the Auto Angels also fix up donated vehicles and sell them to people in need, like Southern, at very low prices.
Linda Miller bought a 1993 Honda Accord from the Auto Angels in December for just a few hundred bucks. Her previous car was repossessed as she worked to climb out of homelessness.
“It means a lot,” she said while holding back tears. “This time I don’t have to make car payments. It’s paid for and it’s mine, so nobody’s going to come and take it again.”
Because it’s an all-volunteer organization, the Auto Angels are not able to help everyone. For now, the group serves members and staff from the church, along with a few social service organizations on the Eastside.
The ministry’s largest annual fundraiser, a car show, will take place June 16 at the church.