LOWELL — James Bresnahan’s used 2011 Ford Fiesta isn’t just a set of wheels. It’s his reason for hope.
The 57-year-old Lowell resident suffers over 12 diseases and disorders, including two deteriorated discs in his lower back and neuropathy in his feet.
“This is my reality…” he said. “I’m in a lot of pain right now.”
Bresnahan’s condition limits his mobility, and therefore what type of work he can pursue. But with a car donated by the New England nonprofit Good News Garage, getting to interviews is one less worry.
“Without a car, (I was) limited to my job search,” Bresnahan said. “(Now) I don’t have to wonder so much, ‘Can I get there?'”
Good News Garage was founded in 1996 in Burlington, Vt., with the goal of providing transportation options to low-income individuals and families. It is now part of the nonprofit Ascentria Care Alliance. Since 1996, over 5,000 New England residents have received vehicles from Good News Garage.
Recipients do not pay for the vehicles — they simply have to insure them and pay for registration fees in some states, such as Massachusetts. The deal also includes a six-month bumper-to-bumper warranty.
“We stand behind what we do… We’re not trying to just like, move cars. We’re here to get people into better economic opportunities through transportation,” Good News Garage Director of Operations Cashmir Cranson said.
In Massachusetts, Good News Garage has a contract with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC), which determines the recipients.
Bresnahan first heard of Good News Garage years ago when he joined the MRC in Lowell. The state commission provides a variety of services, from home care to assistive technology, for disabled individuals.
After hearing about the nonprofit again in a radio ad a few months ago, Bresnahan inquired about his eligibility.
“Ultimately, they’re nice people. Very helpful,” Bresnahan said of Good News Garage. He received his used Ford Fiesta, which has just over 100,000 miles, on Jan. 24.
Bresnahan currently drives a school bus for Westford Public Schools special education students. He typically leaves his home at about 7:50 a.m., and spends the day delivering students to and from school and field trips.
However, the part-time job doesn’t guarantee 40 hours per week.
To Bresnahan, the donated car represents “just the hope of the opportunity to broaden my job search.”
The car also alleviates the stress of simple tasks, like grocery shopping. Until receiving the donated car, Bresnahan walked and rode Lowell Regional Transit Authority buses everywhere. One grocery trip could take hours, he said.
And then there is the pain. Sometimes, his neuropathy compares to the feeling of walking on glass, he said. He declined to divulge too much about his medical history, but added that he is in constant pain.
“I could walk out two miles, and then get stuck. I’m in agony,” he said. A podiatrist once scolded him for walking too much. But it was all he could do.
“Whether it’s being able to just kind of engage in activities that many folks take for granted, like picking kids up from school or being present for, you know, a family obligation, to the more serious substantive day to day of getting to work… a car is… truly a huge key to be able to bring… most people forward in their life,” Cranson said.
The nonprofit is always looking for donations, from trucks to minivans to cars, Cranson added.
Donors can drop vehicles off at one of two primary locations in New Hampshire and Vermont, or have them towed free of charge. All donations are vetted, then fixed up to ensure they meet safety standards.
Not all cars are accepted. Some are too rusted, or wouldn’t make an appropriate donation. For example, a Hummer was once offered by a donor, Cranson said with a chuckle. “Gas alone is going to be a prohibitive expense,” he said.
Currently, Good News Garage operates in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. “We do hope to be in other states in the future,” Cranson said. “Honestly, there’s more demand than supply just here.”
“We give someone a car, and it improves their life,” he said.