By Lauren Loricchio, email@example.com
6:40 AM EST, January 29, 2014
For Arbutus resident Arlene Castro, buying a used car from the Freedom Wheels lot was "an answer to a prayer."
When Castro's 1999 Toyota was totaled in an accident, the settlement check from her insurance company wasn't enough to buy a comparable car.
She was out of work at the time and went three months without her own transportation before she found a Honda CRV at Freedom Wheels, a used-car lot on Washington Boulevard.
Although the vehicle had more mileage on it than she would have liked, she said she paid a fair price for it and she's been happy to have it.
She was also pleased with the car salesman, Brian Jamison.
Jamison and the other sales reps don't work for commissions.
That's because Freedom Wheels of Halethorpe isn't your typical used car lot.
The company is a subsidiary of Vehicles for Change, a nonprofit organization that repairs donated cars and awards them to families who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford a car.
The organization opened its doors in 1999 and has awarded vehicles to more than 4,500 families since.
"Freedom Wheels was established as a way for us to increase our revenue from donations and allow us to be financially self-sufficient," said Jen Harrington, marketing director for Vehicles for Change.
The lot provides approximately 35 percent of revenue for the operation of Vehicles for Change, Harrington said.
"We offer limited financing and our prices are offered at 15 to 20 percent below retail value," said Kim Hernandez, a sales consultant for Freedom Wheels.
"So we're still able to help low-income families, even on the retail side," said Hernandez, who has worked for Vehicles for Change for seven years.
A vehicle is a tool that can help families transition themselves out of poverty, Harrington said.
Nearly 75 percent of Vehicles for Change recipients are able to increase their salary by an average of $7,000 per year within the first year of car ownership, Harrington said.
Vehicle offered for sale at Freedom Wheels are typically used luxury vehicles that aren't awarded to families because the cost of maintenance is so high, Harrington said.
All vehicles are repaired in a large warehouse right next to the car lot by automotive techniciansbefore they are sold.
Each vehicle comes with a warranty and the nonprofit stands by its cars Hernandez said.
"There are a lot of car salesmen who don't care what you buy — they just want the sale. We don't operate that way here," Hernandez said.
Hernandez said the company differs from a typical used car lot, because proceeds go toward awarding a used vehicle to low-income families.
The vehicles sold by the business not only go toward a good cause, but also provide buyers with an opportunity to buy a used car without having to worry about the hidden issues that usually go along with such a transaction.
"I've really enjoyed being here over the years. The feeling that you get to watch people who couldn't afford a car walk away with a car of their own is amazing," Hernandez said.
Arbutus resident Colleen Orendorff, 60, has bought four vehicles from the business.
. "They have quality cars and they'll take care of them," she said.
Orendorff and her husband, Greg, own Gianni's Italian Bistro and Crabhouse, less than a mile from Freedom Wheels.
She said she was happy to buy her vehicles offered at the nearby lot because helping low income people get a car is a "great thing."
While Castro was leaving the lot with her newly purchased car, she said she saw smiles on the faces of a family who had just been awarded a car by Vehicles for Change.
"It was good to know the money we spent went to help another family," she said.