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Used cars become source of funds for nonprofits

By Phil Ryan

The adage that one person’s junk is another person’s treasure has become reality for a Spokane organization of nonprofits that turns used cars into financial support for charities.

The sale of donated vehicles provides social, health and human services in Spokane and the Inland Northwest.

In 1996, several United Way agencies in Spokane and Pull and Save Auto Parts realized there might be a way to capitalize on people’s unused cars. 

Cars for Charity turns “metal into gold” and promotes teamwork among 14 area nonprofit agencies.  It supports them by selling donated used cars and using the proceeds to meet needs in the community and region.

For 10 years, donors have contributed more than 3,000 vehicles, ranging from those sold for parts to fully operable motor homes, cars, trucks and boats.

It started out of interest by Max Spalding of Spalding Auto Parts in supporting work United Way agencies do in the community.       

Cars for Charity still works with United Way agencies, including the American Red Cross, Camp Fire USA, Children’s Home Center of Washington, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Family Outreach Center, Spokane Guild’s School, Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs and others.

Each member agency leads the charity on a one-year rotating basis.  Austin DePaolo of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center, is the current chair. 

He explained that some of the cars are running or salvageable when donated and can be sold for more money.  Others are unsalvageable and sold just for parts.

It might not seem like much money when we sell parts for $50,” Austin said, “but since its inception, more than $1 million has been raised for agencies.”

He said that most who donate cars do so because they can no longer use the car and see this as a way to help the people nonprofit agencies serve.

When a potential donor calls the Cars for Charity number, Pull and Save Auto Parts answers the call. 

Tammy Zastoupil and Russ Spalding of Pull and Save help handle the paperwork and organize the vehicle towing. Once the necessary forms are completed and the title is released, the car is either sold for parts or salvaged. 

Spalding Auto Parts donates $25 per vehicle for towing and, with the exception of a small amount of administrative costs, all the money received goes directly to the organizations with little strain on the donor.

Donors have the choice of sending proceeds to one agency or splitting the income among the group of agencies. 

“Most donors give the profits to the agencies,” Austin said, “so one car can help 14 agencies.”

One car donor, Joe Chrastil, a founder of the Spokane Alliance who recently moved to Seattle to start an alliance there, decided he did not need an extra vehicle he inherited from his mother, so he donated it.

When considering what to do with it, Joe decided selling it to someone or sending it to a junkyard would not do.

 “I wanted to make sure I found the best value for it,” he said. 

“Value is an interesting concept in our society.  Often when people think of value, they immediately think of financial benefit or expense,” he said.

Joe realized that by selling his car through Cars for Charity, its value would go through agencies to people in need.

Cars for Charity represents a principle Joe learned from his parents: there is value in people working together to make larger changes. 

The Spokane Alliance brings churches and nonprofits together for education, discourse and advocacy that benefit the community.

“I grew up in a family that occasionally had tough times making ends meet, but my parents taught me that there were people who had it tougher than we did,” Joe explained.  “Cars for Charity funds reach people who have a tough time making ends meet.

 “My dad would stop to help people on the side of the road if their car had broken down.  He tried to pass that on to us,” he said.

Joe decided to donate proceeds from the sale of the car to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center, because it is in his neighborhood and he supports its efforts “to engage people to improve their own lives.”

For information, call 928-1900.

Written for The Fig Tree as part of a public relations class at Whitworth College

The Fig Tree - Copyright © December 2005