What began as a day like many others for Cynthia Duguay took a turn for the better when her best friend brought her to Fix Auto on Tuesday morning.
“A ruse has to happen,” explained Niels Larsen, sales manager at Valley Toyota. For 15 years, Fix Auto has been partnering with community businesses to provide a car to a family in need at Christmas – with Valley Toyota supplying the cars for the better part of a decade. The winners, however, are always brought to the shop for another reason.
This year, Danica Stewart, who nominated Duguay, told her friend she needed to pick up parts for her car as a way to get her to the shop.
“I thought this was an odd place to pick up a part,” said Duguay. “When we first walked up, I thought it was a staff meeting, or something.”
Instead, Duguay was greeted by nearly three dozen smiling faces as she was handed the keys to a new-to-her 2005 Toyota Corolla S.
“Besides my children, this is the best and biggest thing I’ve ever been given,” exclaimed Duguay during the event. Taken completely by surprise, the single mother of three was overcome with emotions when she realized what was going on.
“This is absolutely amazing and touching. My inner child has come out!” cried Duguay as she jumped and laughed with excitement.
Each year, Valley Toyota donates a vehicle its accepted on trade-in to be fixed up and given to a member of the community based on written submissions from the public. And from the 20 or so applications received this year, Larsen says Stewart’s letter about Duguay stood out amongst staff.
“Cynthia is a single mother of two boys (and one teenaged girl) who recently moved (back) to Chilliwack from Peterborough, Ontario,” wrote Stewart. She “was in an abuse relationship & I was able to help her move out here by offering her 3 buddy passes for her and her boys to get a flight … last May. She packed only the necessary things … (and) when they got here, her and the boys went into a safe house, now she has an apartment and the boys love their new schools.”
But Stewart says Duguay was still having difficulties with navigating her way to and from work, figuring out how to attend her nursing program come fall, and how to get her and her children to all of their appointments.
“We try and help her get places, but it’s (still) hard watching somebody struggle like that,” which inspired Stewart to submit her letter nominating Duguay.
“It’s really tough deciding (on a winner),” said Larsen. There are “so many people deserving and needing a vehicle,” but Duguay’s story really struck a chord with the entire Toyota staff.
Even the car’s former owner, Jenn Carman, came out and shed a tear as she watched her former car given to a fellow mom.
“I feel wonderful that it’s going to a good family and for a good cause,” she said with a smile. “The car looks amazing and I’m so happy (for the winner).”
And Duguay couldn’t be happier. “It’s going to enhance (my life), and the lives of my boys. And I won’t be left feeling stuck and isolated. My independence is back. This is wonderful, it opens up just everything. For me to and from school, and now I have options for to and from work.
“This makes me feel whole,” continued Duguay, wiping away tears. “Even though a car shouldn’t define you, but as a woman, this is just awesome, and as a mother. When my daugher comes from Toronto … she’ll be proud of me, and that’s what matters.”
In addition to the car, which was mechanically updated and fitted with extras like an updated stereo, backup camera and dash camera, Duguay was also gifted with $1,000 towards car insurance at HUB International, and a gift basket full of gift cards.
“I didn’t think (this) would ever happen (to me),” said Duguay after the excitement settled down. “I didn’t even know people got cars for Christmas, (but things like this) sure changes people’s lives, that’s for sure.”