“I never win anything, I was in disbelief — ‘like me?,’” Ludmilla Lamothe, a U.S. Army veteran, said when she learned a couple of months ago she was nominated by local nonprofits Driving 4 Change and Soldiers’ Angels to receive a newly refurbished car as part of the National Auto Body Council’s Recycled Rides Program.
On May 14, representatives from Caliber Collision and GEICO handed Lamothe the keys to a 2013 Mazda 6.
The single mother of two, who was stationed in Alaska during her time in the Army, had been without a car for the past year and turned to using services like Uber and Lyft to get around, but it proved to be costly.
“This will help so much, taking [my children] to the doctor when they need to, sometimes [before] I’d have to cancel things and change stuff around,” she said. “Now I can just get up and go, taking them to school and not worry about what ride I’m going to take and which one is the least expensive. Now I can just put some gas in my ride and go.”
The donated car was restored by technicians at Caliber Collision in Rocky Point who volunteered their personal time to refurbish the vehicle for Lamothe.
Vartan Jerian, director of operations for Caliber Collision New York Region, said it is part of the company’s culture to support veterans as well as the communities in which they work.
“It’s a good way for us to give back and show our appreciation for her service and everything she has done,” Jerian said.
Jerian has been involved in about 30 of these events and said it has become near and dear to his heart as he himself served in the military.
“Every person has a different story — It’s great to see the reactions, great to hear how it’s going to help them and their family out,” the director of operations said. “She is a well deserving person — we’re excited to do it.”
Ken Lalia, GEICO Auto Damage manager in Suffolk County, said he felt similarly.
“It’s our way to give back to the community,” he said. “I feel honored to be able to give cars to military families in need.”
Lalia said GEICO has been involved in the recycled rides programs for the past 10 years and has given away hundreds of refurbished cars.
As part of the program, collision industry companies collaborate to repair and donate vehicles to individuals and families in need of reliable transportation.
Lalia said their goal in this region is to give away 20 cars to individuals in need, and hopes it will make a lot of military families very happy. Lamothe was the fourth recipient of a car this year.
The Huntington resident said she is so grateful and thankful for the car. Though her children couldn’t make it to the unveiling because of school, they were equally excited.
“They wanted to be here, they were so excited — they were like ‘What’s it going to look like mom?,’” she said. “I’m probably going to surprise them and pick them up at school.”