Perhaps too often we don’t take a moment to simply pause, and affirm the freedom provided by reliable transportation. For so many, the mere notion of a personal vehicle has become tragically routine. They are simply present. We turn the key. Start the ignition. And arrive at our next destination in life without so much as a second thought.
Yet, it’s not always so simplistic. Particularly for people like U.S. Navy veteran Gregory Wood, or Sarah Walton and her Seattle family. The pair indeed has a keen understanding of the liberty offered by a combustion engine and four wheels. That's because they are deeply connected to life without a vehicle.
And recently, with the help of friends from GEICO and auto repair technicians from Service King's Tacoma repair center who graciously volunteered their time and skilled labor, freedom was granted. It came on a sunny July afternoon as Wood and the Walton family arrived at a small celebration in Renton, Washington where they were handed keys to their very own vehicles as part of an afternoon they won't soon forget.
Wood's reaction was not hyperbole. Before the giveaway, the eight-year Navy veteran walked two hours each day just to get to his job as a recreational assistant at Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton, Washington.
“I am still in shock,” he added. “And cannot believe this. My entire life will be tremendously impacted in a positive way."
The story is quite the same for the Walton family, who touched the hearts of millions around the world with their story of unthinkable tragedy and the power of hope. Earlier this year, Sarah Walton lost her four-year-old daughter, Ellie, to a brutal fight with brain cancer.
During Ellie’s relentless fight, which included 28 rounds of chemotherapy and more than a dozen surgeries, Sarah shared the story on a Facebook page she entitled ‘Prayers for Ellie.'
Soon, Sarah made an unusual request on that page. She asked for postcards. See, as Ellie courageously fought the rare cancer attacking her young brain, she told her mother she wanted to see the world. A world, perhaps Ellie knew at the time, that she might never get the opportunity to see. So Sarah made a plea to the nearly 50,000 people supporting Ellie on Facebook.
Just weeks later, hundreds of postcards started arriving at their Spanaway, Washington home. They came from every state in the U.S. and all corners of the world — from as far away as Russia, Japan, Finland and even Germany. Suddenly, Ellie, if even just for a glimpse, got to see the beauties of the world in the midst of her brutal fight.
The story quickly spread, and soon The Walton Family found themselves featured in national, and even international, headlines, including an appearance on NBC’s Today Show.
“It’s just people we’ve never met that are there for our family,” Sarah said to NBC in the 2016 story. “Just knowing there are people out there that care is amazing. There are definitely still a lot of good people left in this world."
Tragically, Ellie lost her fight this January. Sarah shared the news on her Prayers for Ellie Facebook page in a heartfelt tribute to her daughter’s courage, fight and beautiful inspiration on January 15.
This summer, while coping with their loss, the family struggled to make ends meet. Medical bills from the wave of treatments and surgeries piled up in the mailbox, and in the midst of it all, they were strapped with an unreliable vehicle that multiple times had to be towed away for repairs.
That’s where GEICO and the Service King Cares initiative stepped in. The pair worked side-by-side with the National Auto Body Council and Recycled Rides program to locate a Chevy Malibu, fully restore the vehicle, stuff it with gifts, and hand it over in a joyful celebration.
It was an emotional moment for the Walton family and Wood, one that is bound to propel the families forward for years to come.
“These people didn’t just give us a car,” Sarah said after receiving the Malibu. “They gave us love. They gave us the ability to see the good in every person, to see that love has no boundaries, and that kindness isn’t just born, it’s made, and the people we met today are filled with kindness and love that could fill the heart of thousands.”