A Christmas Eve gift will make the New Year brighter for Shawntaye Sledge and her three children.
The Crafton Heights single mother won the "Too Big For the Stocking" contest sponsored by North Hills Community Outreach. The Too Big prize was a 2003 Chrysler Town and Country minivan.
And, as if that weren't enough, the green van was stocked with toys for her children: Justin, 4, Aubrey, 2, and Jason, 1.
This was the fourth year that the Hampton-based organization gave away a car as part of its Community Auto program.
"It was a very merry Christmas Eve for us, too," said Elizabeth Edwards, manager of Community Auto.
The goal of the program is to help people "get on the road to success and self-sufficiency."
Twenty people wrote an essay to enter the contest. Ms. Sledge's essay stood out, displaying a passion and determination to improve her life and the lives of her children.
Ms. Sledge, 30, was still overwhelmed when interviewed after driving the car home on Christmas Eve.
"The baby is too little to understand, but Aubrey and Justin are very excited," she said.
She is doing secretarial work with a temporary employment agency, but her goal is to work in human resources as an administrative assistant.
She already has a two-year associate's business degree from the Bradford School.
This month she is starting online classes at Community College of Allegheny College with a goal of earning another degree. Now that she has the van, Ms. Sledge has lined up interviews for two jobs that would pay more than she is currently earning.
She recently was offered a $17-per-hour job that she had to turn down because she could not get there on public transportation.
The van was donated to the agency in November. Kletter Automotive in Hampton donated nearly $800 worth of body work on the vehicle.
Last fall, Ms. Sledge applied to Community Auto, which sells low-cost used cars to people who need a vehicle to get to and from work and to their children's schools and other necessary family destinations. The cars, which are donated, are generally sold for between $2,500 and $3,000.
Ms. Sledge was turned down by NHCO because she did not have enough money to buy a car, but staff suggested she enter the Too Big For the Stocking contest.
The nonprofit North Hills Community Outreach was started in 1987. It now has more than 25 employees and nearly 1,400 volunteers in 50 communities - most in Allegheny County, but some in Butler and Beaver counties. A wide range of services are offered, including a food bank, job search advice and assistance with utilities, rent and mortgages.
More than 100 cars have been sold by Community Auto/NHCO since February 2010, when the car program was started. There's a waiting list of people who hope to buy a Community Auto, so donations of vehicles are always needed.
Donors get a tax donation. If the donated car can be rehabbed and sold to a family, the donor gets the Kelley Blue Book value as a tax deduction. Donated cars that are not driveable or deemed to be not re-salable are sold at auction or for scrap, and the donor gets a tax deduction equal to the amount that the nonprofit received.
Money from vehicle auctions and scrap sales are used to cover the cost of repairs for vehicles that are re-sold.
Information: North Hills Community Outreach, communityauto.org or 724-443-8300.neigh_city - neigh_west - neigh_north
Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-722-0087.