Tara Patrick hasn't had a lot of luck with used vehicles. Over the last two years, the Chilliwack single mother of four has watched in despair as a total of nine cheap junkers have died on her.
One gave out on Highway 1 while she was taking her six-year-old son Kole to a specialist appointment in Abbotsford, but not all have gone so quietly-like the van that burst into flames without warning while she was driving along the Haney Bypass in Maple Ridge.
And before last week, Tara was already resigned to the inevitable and imminent demise of her latest junker: a $1,800 Chevy Blazer her parents bought for her in the summer, only to learn a short time later that the undercarriage had been trashed by a previous owner.
Tara didn't have the money to fix it and she knew she was driving on borrowed time.
But last week she caught a rare break.
At a surprise presentation at Fix Auto Thursday morning, she was handed the keys to a fully refurbished 2002 Toyota Sienna compliments of Valley Toyota as this year's winner of the ninth annual Chilliwack Times Fix Auto Christmas Car Giveaway.
"This is unbelievable," Tara said, wiping away tears and repeatedly thanking the small crowd of donors and family that had gathered for the occasion.
Tara was due for a bit of good fortune, according to her mom Sandra, who nominated her for the giveaway.
"She has had really tough breaks in her life, some horrible breaks that just shouldn't happen to anybody," Sandra told the Times.
Supporting four kids (Makenna, 13, Kole, six, and two-year-old twins Jayde and Brayden) on one small salary has been tough for her daughter, Sandra said, and finding a way to get herself and her kids around has been a constant struggle.
"To have this van and know that it's going to be sound and keep her and the kids safe, that's huge," Sandra said.
Tara couldn't agree more. "It'll make a world of a difference just having something reliable and something that fits us all," she said.
For nine years now, Fix Auto has brought together a team of local businesses to do what they do best to help someone in need.
"There's food banks and all those charities that help needy people, but this is a way of helping somebody in a different way that's not common," said Fix regional manager Ben Alleckna. "And it's something that we can do no problem."
Besides co-ordinating the giveaway, his shop supplied a brand-new paint job and a thorough detailing of the interior.
For Valley Toyota sales manager Niels Larsen, whose company is new to the giveaway this year, getting involved has been a great experience.
"It's kind of indescribable just seeing her walk in here. Just to see someone who needs this and to see their reaction, that's what it's all for," he said.
Valley Toyota got the Sienna on a trade-in and donated it after making a couple of repairs.
"It seemed to be a good candidate especially for someone with a family that's going to need to haul around kids and cargo and all that stuff," Larsen said.
Along with the car, the Patrick family also drove away with a pack of other Christmas goodies: $250 worth of insurance from HUB Barton Insurance, $200 worth of service as well as free alignment and safety inspection from Simpson Automotive, four free oil changes from Mr. Lube, car mats from Fortins, a road safety kit from NAPA Auto Parts and gift cards from Speedy Glass, Fibre-new and Big O Tires.
T h r e e Chilliwack Fix Auto employees even pitched in $60 in personal donations for the Patricks.
Since moving here in the spring, Tara has been working to make a new life for herself and her kids, said her mom. Winning this year's giveaway will make it that much easier.
"This will be a real windfall for her and take away a big worry."