By MAKENZIE HUBER, leader of Sioux Falls Argus
SIOUX FALLS, SD (AP) — Volunteers at the SHIFT Garage in North Sioux Falls aren’t just fixing vehicles, they’re trying to change lives.
SHIFT Garage is a volunteer-based, non-profit vehicle repair shop that charges low-income customers at cost for replacements and repairs. They also accept donated vehicles, repair them and sell them at low prices to families.
While the nonprofit started in Rapid City about a decade ago, founder and director Joe Smith recently expanded to a second location in Sioux Falls late last year.
The goal is to help people get their vehicles running again so they can get back to their lives easily, he said. Overall, such a simple solution can have an impact on generational poverty, he added.
“A broken down car shuts down your whole system when you’re living paycheck to paycheck,” Smith said. “You have to make a decision on funding and sign off your life to just drive to work.”
While there are plenty of nonprofits to take care of food and housing in the Sioux Falls area, reliable transportation needs more attention, he added.
Other Sioux Falls nonprofits addressing transportation issues include Sioux Empire Wheels to Work, which connects single-parent families with donated and repaired vehicles, and Project CAR, which provides free car rides. , Chief Argus reported.
“They can’t get groceries, get to work, or take their kids to daycare without a car,” Smith said. “And some solutions, like Lyft or Uber, are more expensive; Sioux Falls public transportation may be unreliable. and your friends will only continue to pick up the phone for a few weeks.
After opening the store in October 2021, Smith says the need for affordable auto repair services is greater than ever. Inflation and the rising cost of used vehicles over the past year have only exacerbated the need.
Smith said he saw “shabby” cars arriving for repairs than he had seen in Rapid City years before because of it.
“When people got their taxes last year, they needed them to survive and kept driving their old cars instead of saving them to buy a newer vehicle,” Smith said. “They haven’t serviced this vehicle, so when the cars come to me, they don’t just have one problem, they have four more.”
The Rapid City location repairs approximately 150 vehicles and sells between 25 and 30 donated program vehicles per year. Demand is so high in Rapid City alone, where the nonprofit has more volunteers and twice as many hours, that customers have to wait two months to fit into the schedule.
In the final months of 2021 after opening, SHIFT in Sioux Falls repaired 17 vehicles.
Chris Erickson, manager of SHIFT West in Rapid City, worked as a mechanic before volunteering at SHIFT and taking on the role of manager when Smith moved to Sioux Falls with his family last year.
“We want one-time customers at SHIFT,” Erickson said.
This philosophy means not only performing repairs on vehicles, but also conducting education and budgeting courses for customers. There are currently classes in Rapid City and Smith plans to start classes in Sioux Falls later this year.
“When we fix these cars, we’re putting a band-aid on a deeper problem,” Smith said. “The car will help for a while, but they won’t be driving this in five years. If the education can stick, that’s what will help people in the long run.
Most problems addressed by SHIFT are preventable. Erickson said they take the time to walk customers through basic car maintenance, how to listen for problems, and prevent problems so they can extend the life of their vehicles.
“The Rapid City people we serve don’t get a lot of education when it comes to mechanical issues,” Chris said. “They don’t teach it in schools, and with the busy mechanic shops, they don’t have time to tell you what to look for. It’s more transactional in these stores.
Getting people back in their cars doesn’t just help them, it helps the Sioux Falls community, Erickson said.
“Instead of having a vehicle sitting in the driveway for five years, people can donate it and have it fixed here,” Erickson said. “Our clients then take that car and earn money at work, they go grocery shopping, and they’re less dependent on other nonprofits because they’re able to afford rent and food. instead of paying for a car repair.”
Smith is quick to point out that SHIFT is not in competition with other mechanics or garages in Sioux Falls, adding that it makes many references about issues that its volunteers “shouldn’t bother.” Volunteers are not certified mechanics, just people who want to use their time and skills for a cause.
He plans to do more in Sioux Falls to meet growing needs in the area soon and is looking for more volunteers and people to donate vehicles.
“To make a real dent in need in Sioux Falls, we have to increase more than we are,” Smith said.
To qualify for SHIFT auto repair, potential customers must complete an online application demonstrating their need for low-cost repair. While a council reviews all applications, the program focuses on helping single parents or low-income families.
Those interested in donating a vehicle can contact SHIFT online. The garage accepts vehicle donations and can provide a tax-deductible receipt. Monetary donations can also be made online.
Volunteers are also welcome to join the team. Interested persons can apply online.
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