Lovette Iokia, a 48-year-old single mother of four, walks to her two jobs.
Jocelyn Ibarra, a 20-year-old single mother of a 2-year-old, wants to continue her schooling as a nurse, but needs to catch rides to work with friends or her foster family.
A third woman, who prefers to remain anonymous because she is a victim of domestic abuse, hopes to move out of a women’s shelter, but would have no way of driving to her job.
Auto Body Hawaii is celebrating its 40th anniversary on Aug. 23 by donating three cars to these community members in need.
“We really wanted to make a difference here in Kona, and the best thing was to give back directly with what we can do,” said Dale Matsumoto, president of Auto Body Hawaii.
The company has been donating reconditioned vehicles annually for the past five years, but this year the company is giving away three vehicles at once for the first time.
Since 2012, Auto Body Hawaii has partnered with Kaanalike, a local non-profit organization chose the vehicles’ recipients. Kaanalike, a volunteer-based organization, is named after the Hawaiian word for “sharing.” The organization accepts donations from community members and retail outlets and puts them in the hands of people in need. Kaanalike also helps support Overstock n Discounts, a salvage retailer in the Kaloko Light Industrial Area.
Nalani Freitas, a police officer and chairperson for Kaanalike, said having a vehicle makes a big difference for needy families. The limited bus system in rural areas makes transportation to work and school challenging, she said.
Kaanalike chose the recipients based on their need, efforts to improve their situation, and ability to keep a vehicle legal and insured.
Auto Body Hawaii purchases vehicles that insurance companies have declared a “total loss” after a collision. These vehicles are typically sold at about 15 percent of their wholesale value, Matsumoto said. The company’s mechanics replace parts and rebuild the vehicles as they would any car in the shop to make them mechanically sound and safe for their new owners.
Matsumoto estimated the total cost of rebuilding the three vehicles this year was about $10,000.
The company is giving away a 2001 Honda Accord, a 2005 Ford Focus, and a 2006 Ford Fusion.
The Ford Fusion was a special donation to the program. Matsumoto had asked Daniel Hamata at Island Insurance about the “totaled” vehicle, and when Hamata learned the vehicle was for Auto Body Hawaii’s giveaway program, he decided to donate it to the cause.
While community service has always been part of Auto Body Hawaii’s mission, 40 years of business have brought changes to the industry, the company, and the economy, Matsumoto said.
“There are a lot more electronics involved in today’s vehicles than there were in the past,” he said. Technicians must be educated about vehicles’ computer systems, especially to ensure that repairs are compatible with modern safety features.
Earl Kobayashi was the company’s first, sole employee when it was founded in 1973, and he continues to work at Auto Body Hawaii today. Kobayashi is now one of about 20 employees at Auto Body Hawaii, located near Costco in the Kaloko industrial area.
Matsumoto has been working at the company for 34 years, and said he has seen Auto Body Hawaii weather three economic slowdowns. In 2005 and 2006, the company employed more than 30 people, but had to cut back in the recession. They are now starting to hire again, he said.
“Every time [a slowdown] happens it’s been tough, and this last one has been the toughest,” he said. “You just have to do your best, run as efficiently as possible, and always take care of your customers.”