In the dead of winter, Breanna Freeman found herself in what she calls “one of the scariest times of my life.” Little did she know it was the beginning of one of the luckiest times.
A 25-year-old single mother, Freeman thought her life and livelihood were taking a serious turn for the worse when her 2002 Volkswagen Beetle rattled, sputtered and shut down while she was driving in Bowling Green.
“I had my son in the back, and I was seven and a half months pregnant,” said Freeman, an upstate New York native who has lived in Bowling Green since 2017. “It was one of the scariest times of my life.”
Freeman had the presence of mind to nurse the car to the Midas automotive repair location on U.S. 31-W By-Pass, and that was the beginning of her good luck.
Tony McElhinny, who owns the local Midas store in partnership with his wife, Debbie, knew right away that there was no quick fix to Freeman’s predicament.
“That car needed a lot of work,” Tony McElhinny said. “Basically, she was out of luck.”
An employee of the Dunkin’ Donuts on Nashville Road who has ambitions of becoming a certified nursing assistant, Freeman could see those ambitions and even her ability to commute to her job disappearing.
The McElhinnys had other ideas, ideas that culminated Friday afternoon with Freeman accepting the keys to a 2006 Saturn Ion that had been rebuilt just for her – at no cost.
The Saturn, a car the Midas store had on hand, was repaired to near-mint condition and presented to Freeman through the Midas Project Spark program and the 1-800-Charity Cars nonprofit.
Owners of the Bowling Green Midas franchise for the past seven years, the McElhinnys had never participated in Project Spark, but Debbie McElhinny knew this was the time to start.
“I remember her coming in,” Debbie McElhinny said. “She was so upset. I knew we had to do something. There was no doubt.”
Her husband quickly agreed.
“I felt that Breanna was the perfect candidate for it (Project Spark),” Tony McElhinny said. “There are a lot of young adults challenged with financial problems and stress right now. I thought this was a great idea. It was very gratifying to be able to donate to someone in need and an excellent opportunity to make Breanna’s life a little easier.”
It did just that, although it took some time for Freeman to come to grips with the gesture that Midas and the McElhinnys were making.
“I was shocked,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Really?’ when they told me the car was being donated. I was trying to get my own place for me and my kids. The thought of having one less thing to worry about was like a breath of fresh air.”
And Freeman didn’t simply get a used car. The McElhinnys enlisted the help of store manager Patrick Young and technician Billy Benson, and they orchestrated a complete overhaul of the vehicle.
“Everything that needed attention got attention,” Young said. “We replaced the engine and the transmission. We worked on the bumper and the exhaust system. We touched it from front to back. It does make you feel good to have the opportunity to put your sweat and blood into a project like this.”
Young said he and the Midas technicians were still planning to put a new set of tires on the Saturn before turning it over to Freeman.
“We want it to be a real dependable car,” Tony McElhinny said.
Although this was maybe more high-profile, the McElhinnys pointed out that their Midas store has been doing other community services, especially during the coronavirus pandemic that has altered lives and the economy.
The Bowling Green Midas store offered free oil changes to the medical professionals on the front lines of the battle against the COVID-19 respiratory disease.
“We did 100 free oil changes in a four-week period,” Tony McElhinny said. “It was our way of thanking them for all their hard work. I hope it makes them a little happier.”
It was obvious Friday that the McElhinnys and their staff had made Freeman more than a little happier, which was his goal all along.
“She’s a single mom who was struggling, and she’s a really nice person,” Tony McElhinny said. “I hope this improves her life.”