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K-O Auto to donate car to deserving local resident

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RONAN — Dino Di Giulio started Body Best Collision in Sonoma, Calif. in 1990 when he was 21 years old. Opening the business took every dollar he’d ever saved, but after 20 years in business and lots of growth, Di Giulio decided it was time to give back to his community.

“I felt like there was a need for people to have cars, and we were coming out of a pretty bad recession in 2008 and 2009,” Di Giulio said. “People had lost their homes and lost their jobs, so there was just a need to give back.”

With this in mind, Di Giulio contacted his friend Jody Gatchell of A and J Collision in Arkansas. Gatchell had been donating sound, reliable cars to Recycled Rides for a number of years. 

“I asked him for advice — How they did it, how he got the cars ready, that kind of thing,” Di Giulio said. “I find myself getting good deals on cars consistently, since I work in the automotive industry, and I felt it was something I could do at a reasonable expense to give back to my community.”

The hardest part of that first giveaway for Di Giulio was finding a name for the project, but Gatchell had a solution for that as well.

“He came up with the name, ‘Wheels To Prosper,’” Di Giulio said. 

From there, it was all downhill. Both men are members of Management Success, an auto industry training and consulting firm based in Glendale, Calif. With the organization’s help, the pair were able to build a website and lock down specific details regarding how the cars would be given away and who would get them. At the next Management Success meeting, Di Giulio was able to convince 12 shops around the nation to participate in the giveaway and do so on the same day — the fourth Saturday of July. 

Today, nearly 20 automobile service shops around the country participate in Wheels To Prosper. K-O Auto in Ronan is now among them, and will be giving away a reliable, mechanically sound vehicle to a deserving person or family July 27.

“It’s just a ‘Give back to the community’ type of thing, just to help somebody out,” said K-O Auto owner James Krell. “What we’re doing is having people nominate other people, so if they know somebody who’s put themselves second and is always helping other people and they’re in need of a car, that’s the person we’re trying to find.”

The car that Krell and K-O Auto will donate is a 2003 Buick Century. Rather than keeping his eye out throughout the year for something with a blown motor that could be fixed and sold, as was suggested by Wheels To Prosper, Krell decided to purchase a running, reliable vehicle to be sure he was giving away a beautiful used car. 

“I just didn’t have anything that was good,” Krell said. “I didn’t want to give away anything where the body was beat up or anything like that.”

Instead, Krell bought the Buick from the DeMarois Buick GMC Truck car dealer in Missoula. When the DeMaoris found out he’d be giving it away to a deserving individual or family, they cut the price by more than half. 

“We’re going to go through it and do the brakes, check the front end and go through everything else to make sure it’s good and sound and that they’re not going to have any problems with it,” he said.

Local residents interested in nominating a caring, giving person who has recently experienced tough times should write a letter or essay describing why they feel this person deserves the car and send it along with the person’s name, phone number and contact information to k-oauto@hotmail.com or drop it off in person at K-O Auto in Ronan. 

Krell said he’s already read a few letters that nearly brought him to tears. One woman in particular spends the majority of her time fundraising for children and children’s programs. Most of the funds come from her own pocket, and she doesn’t own a vehicle.

“That’s somebody who’s spending money to better someone else’s life when she could maybe work on getting herself a vehicle ... I’m really excited about it,” Krell said. “When you tell people about it and you start talking about it, they think you’re trying to sell them something. But, once they realize what you’re doing, their whole tone changes and you see their caring side. It’s exciting.”

Krell said he’s putting together a committee of five involved community members to go over the nominations and select five finalists. These finalists will be invited to a luncheon at K-O Auto July 27 where the winner will be decided.

Charles Smith, a long-time employee of K-O Auto, said it feels good to work for a business that is community-minded.

“Not many businesses are giving back to the community like that,” Smith said. “It’s going to be something from a local business that’s locally owned, and it’s going to families that are in need in the local community.”

Di Giulio had similar sentiments on the matter.

“If we all work together, as a town, we can all prosper and thrive,” he said. “You get busted up about it because you affect and change people’s lives, and it makes you feel good. 

“We built the program to help other people.”

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