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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘This car has been through so much’: Donated vehicle used to start Blessings Under the Bridge helps former homeless mom with kids

A journey in an Isuzu Rodeo perhaps ended Aug. 11 on a gravel road, but Jessica Kovac sees more than the car’s twists and turns. It’s sentimental because Blessings Under the Bridge in 2007 started in that SUV filled with 40 bags of food for the homeless in downtown Spokane. She kept the vehicle until donating it in May, and now she sees metaphors in its protection and engine – or heart – that never quit.

Kovac gave the Rodeo to the homeless shelter provider Family Promise of Spokane to gift to a family in need. That nonprofit by July gave it to a single mom, Becca Wells, who’d lived in one of its shelters during 2020 with son Orion Rich, 9, daughter Opheliah Rich, 7, and son Avery Watson, 5. They moved into an apartment just before Thanksgiving.

“The car has meant not having to worry about whether or not I have a bus pass to run errands, or while we’re out, we can stop because we need milk and cheese,” Wells said. “It’s meant having some freedom to go as a family and enjoy the lake. We did a lot of camping this summer.” But while taking the car to go camping again on Aug. 11, the Rodeo was damaged when Wells rounded a bend in a gravel road north of Usk, Washington, and bright sunlight broke through a gap in the trees.

Wells said she couldn’t see with the sun in her eyes as she hit the brakes. The vehicle slid in the gravel onto its side and was caught on both edges by trees stopping the car’s trajectory just short of an embankment, she said. She and her sister weren’t injured, and her children were safe in another vehicle nearby. “Had it been a smaller rig or even a different rig, it could have been a 60-foot drop,” Wells said. “Between these two trees, they caught the Rodeo. Past them is the embankment.”

Her boyfriend pulled them out. Wells said the towed Rodeo’s damage is costly, so it’s scheduled to be sold for parts. She’s now using a van on loan from her boyfriend.

While thankful no one was hurt, Kovac thinks her former car went to Wells for a reason.

“When I heard about the 60-foot part, I’m thinking you’re protected in this vehicle,” Kovac told Wells, while looking at photos of the damage. “This car has been through so much and has done so much.”

Much of that SUV’s journey took Kovac through the start of Blessings, her two daughters’ learning to drive and years when it sat in standby. Then, the vehicle was her transportation when Kovac hit some recent upheaval in her own life – until March – when she also received the unexpected gift of a car. Years back, her family had kept the Rodeo for sentimental ties, being in good shape and its low mileage, Kovac said.

“It sat for a long time. Then a couple years ago when I got a divorce, that’s the car I actually took with me. It needed some TLC,” Kovac said. Mostly, it was reliable, until February. “It literally halted on the freeway coming home from Blessings on a cold night, and I was, ‘Lord, just get me off this freeway,’ so I coasted.” After exiting near Thierman Road, the car “just died.” Somehow, she limped it along to her office with her dad following behind.

Kovac had to call to postpone a meeting that day with an “angel donor” wanting to give to the Blessings nonprofit. Kovac told him about her car troubles, so he came the next day to the office and asked if she’d fixed the car yet. Kovac shared that the vehicle’s alternator had failed. “I told him it’s no big deal. I’m saving up for this other car, a Jetta, because I’m newly divorced and can’t afford a car payment. He left, then came back five minutes later.”

The donor handed her an envelope. “I knew right away in my head and heart what he did and got choked up and said, ‘You can’t do that.’ He said, ‘I just did.’ He gave me the dollar amount of $1,500, but he didn’t know that was the amount I needed to get this Jetta.” A couple days later, a different man came by to drop off eight bags of clothes for Blessings. Soon after, Kovac said the angel donor called, asking if she’d just received the clothes from a friend of his who’d called to discuss another topic while mentioning the nonprofit stop.

The angel donor told his friend about helping Kovac buy a vehicle when that friend simply offered to give her a car, Kovac said. That friend is Wayne Cornwell, owner of Becker Buick GMC, she said. “First I don’t have a car; it’s broken down. Then I get money to get this other car I wanted, and now this other person wants to give me a car,” Kovac said. “I was so overwhelmed, so grateful.

“It’s like pay it forward in reverse. I got this car – a 2005 Buick LaCrosse – like God was knowing I was going to give this other car, the Rodeo, that was used to start Blessings Under the Bridge.” Kovac said the angel donor wanted to help so she could continue her work for Blessings and told her to keep the gifted money, which she used toward costs to move. Then, she contacted the repair shop again about the Rodeo.

“They found out it was a faulty alternator.” A warranty covered a correct fix, Kovac said. “So in March, I moved, I got a new car, then I got this car fixed, and it sat at my new place in the driveway.” By May, Kovac said she felt prompted to let go of the Rodeo, so she mentioned it to a friend, Craig Howard, development manager at Family Promise.

“The car by then had bald tires, a very bad cracked windshield, no rearview mirror – kind of a reflection of my life because I was going through so much turmoil trying to hold up Blessings and my personal stuff,” Kovac said. “I’ve always wanted to present this car to whoever with pride, so I went to go get the windshield fixed even though I didn’t have the money. I went to pay for the windshield, and they said to me, ‘No charge, have a good day.’

“I get into this car that has this new, clear windshield almost like a metaphor of life for me, like you can see clearly now.” She cleaned up the SUV and put in new mats, but on the day scheduled to deliver it to Family Promise, the SUV wouldn’t start. “Long story short, literally the day before when I finally made peace to give this car away, someone tried to steal it, so the anti-theft lock system kicked in,” Kovac said.

The steering wheel column needed a $335 repair, again more than she could afford, but she decided she’d figure it out. An hour later, Kovac noticed a voicemail. It announced an unexpected check – $350 – from a former rental deposit, enough to cover the fix. Family Promise arranged a few more repairs for the car, and later a time for Kovac and Wells to meet.

“It was like this car was meant to go to her,” Kovac said. “To think 15 years later, it was going to someone who is the very person I set out to serve. Now, its connection may have been severed, but the engine is still intact. I don’t see this as the end knowing the car did some good.”