For some, a late-’90s Ford Taurus wouldn’t hold much value, especially one with more than 147,000 miles.
The Mechanics Ministry at Wesley United Methodist Church, however, views the car as a beacon of hope for families in need.
On Sunday, the ministry reached a milestone by donating its 300th car since 2003. Senior Pastor Greg Porterfield said there is a rush of excitement with every donation.
“All we ever want to do as a congregation is to make a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “It’s a life-changing experience for somebody. A lot of us can’t imagine life without transportation.”
Car No. 300 went to Christopher Shelley, a single father of two children. Without a reliable mode of transportation, he was forced to walk most places. He joined Porterfield and Mechanics Ministry coordinator Scott Long in front of the congregation Sunday to receive the keys and title to his new car.
Parked in front of the church’s main entrance, the silver sedan was decked with ribbons and balloons. Signs were taped to the windows with the “300” in bold type.
“I just want to say thank you to everyone who had a part in doing this,” Shelley said as he fought back tears.
Though the ministry has donated cars since 2003, Long said it traces its roots back to 1997. In the beginning, the ministry helped with oil changes for single parents and the elderly in the church parking lot.
The ministry then began to perform mechanical work for needy families in the area, charging for parts only. After failing to help a woman who purchased a van with a locked-up engine, Long had an epiphany.
“The idea of giving away cars smacked us in the face,” he said. “We couldn’t leave these families like this. They’re stuck.”
Long doesn’t remember much from the first car donation, but he does remember a giveaway that came full circle. After one recipient got back on his feet, he returned the car to the ministry to give to the next family in need, Long said.
Pat Williams, the pastor of missions and care, said the church does not simply hand out cars. Recipients are identified after a thorough screening process with social workers and church officials.
“We have very, very few cars to give away, so we have to be very good stewards of this gift,” she said. “We try to match the vehicles to the family’s needs.”
Recipients must pay the tag fees on the vehicle before they can accept the donation.
Donations can come from anywhere, Williams said. Most come from members of Wesley United, but the church has received cars from as far away as Atlanta and Savannah. Porterfield said he even joined in by donating an aging Surburban.
“It was worth far more to us to donate it than we would have had for a trade-in,” he said.
The ministry is supported through the church by way of donations and fundraisers, and through local businesses who donate services to the cause. Long said the ministry maintains a stable of around 10 mechanics.
Long said the ministry could always use more donations.
“We’ve got plenty of demand,” he said. “We need more cars.”