Free cars given to needy individuals in Antioch

December 14, 2011 7:03:02 PM PST
In the East Bay, there was a renewal of a tradition that has given away 37 cars in the past 11 years. It's a program that brightens the holidays and changes lives every year. This holiday season is no different.

It is the nature of traditions that they become more important with every year, and that applies to what happened in Antioch on Wednesday.

For 11 years, insurance companies and the automotive repair industry have given away cars to needy people at Christmas. This time around, it was five cars -- a record.

"I tell you, it's grown tremendously," said Sal Contreras.

Contreras coordinates the program through Mike's Auto Body. The program began in 2000 with one car and one recipient -- Denise Rios -- who returned on Wednesday to talk about the difference it made.

"It was the most happiest, most exciting day of my life," said Rios.

That the cars look good is a minor miracle considering what they have been through. Each of the cars is technically totaled, but recoverable with lots of elbow grease, donated parts and donated labor.

Cameron Lewis worked on one red Chevy Cobart that went to Delberta Miller this year. Each team reads the letters and chooses its recipients.

"I take people that don't have vehicles, that can't get around, and I help them out," said Miller.

The sweetest story of the day went to Nancy Vingchan, whose husband Joshua spent the year in Afghanistan with the California National Guard.

"My car is actually on its last leg," said Vingchan.

Not anymore: Vingchan received a Ford Focus on Wednesday, but it was the appearance of Santa with toys for her kids that led Vingchan to show the most emotion.

"I just always keep on doing the best thing I can do and support everyone else and I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I'm always there to help everybody else in need," Vingchan said.

When Vingchan's husband returns home from Afghanistan in a few days, she'll be picking him up in a new car.

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