Wanted: Free cars with a little life left in them to give a lift to those in need.

Wanted: Free cars with a little life left in them to give a lift to those in need.

Since its inception in January, the fledgling Driving-Out Poverty program has donated a dozen lien-free vehicles to low-income families. More vehicles are needed to help others break the cycle of poverty, said LeArta Romero, the program's director.

"I'd like people to think about that serviceable car they may have sitting in their garage or their car dealership that they just haven't been able to sell. That car could save a life," Romero said.

Maybe not literally, the Medford woman said, but cars provide access to education, jobs, health care, child care and social support. They also nurture self-esteem and promote family and community relationships, Romero added.

One of the recipients of a donated vehicle was a woman who had just marked four years of being clean and sober.

"She got the car on her anniversary," said Romero.

The woman had been successfully working her addiction program and holding down a steady job. Her job site wasn't served by bus lines, and making her way to and from work was very difficult, Romero said. The free car solved her transportation problems.

With her life now on track and her need for reliable transportation met, the grateful woman said something that Romero said she'll never forget the day she handed over the keys.

"She said, 'I've never had anyone keep a promise. I'll never fail you,' " Romero recalled. "I told her not to fail herself."

All recipients of donated cars must be approved by a nonprofit agency, provide proof of a valid drivers licence and insurance. A disclaimer is given to both the donor and recipient as a legal safety measure for both parties.

No vehicle given to any selected family or individual may be resold for monetary gain. All vehicles are donated without obligation, but recipients are asked to consider providing some of their time to a nonprofit agency of their choice as a way to "pay it forward," Romero said.

Romero, an executive for PremierWest Bank, came up with the idea for her nonprofit program during a United Way seminar in January, when she learned that some 400 families in Jackson County who do not own vehicles can be considered poor or "near poor."

Romero said she discovered owning a private vehicle is an essential element of success in obtaining independence. She quickly found herself committed to working on a solution to end the transportation problem for as many poor families as possible by obtaining donated vehicles and presenting them to those in need.

The first free vehicle came from Medford City Councilwoman Jill Stout. Stout came away with a tax deduction, and the 1989 Plymouth Voyager became transportation for a Rogue River family. The maroon van was roomy enough for all six members of the Blackmon family.

Stout, a former single mom, said it felt good to help a struggling family, and to know the Blackmons would be able to go places as a family.

More cars are needed because the dozen that have already been donated have found good homes. Romero is particularly interested in vans because they can be fitted for wheelchair lifts and other equipment for the disabled though grants provided by Mobility Unlimited, another non-profit organization.

All donated vehicles must be serviceably sound and pass inspection to be accepted, she said.

"One thing we don't want to do is to save somebody a tow fee," said Romero.

Anyone interested in donating a reliable, used, lien-free, tax-deductible vehicle can reach Romero via e-mail at drivingoutpoverty@yahoo.com or by calling 541-531-0580.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.