Alisha Rousset will not forget her daughter’s sixth birthday.
“It was Dec. 21,” she said as she described her big surprise. “I started crying. Tears of joy. My life was about to change.”
Little Gabriella wasn’t the only one to get a gift that day. Alisha, a mother of four and Army veteran, was given a free car from the family-owned CARSTAR auto body shop in Lakeland, FL. The 2011 Toyota Corolla had less than 30,000 miles on it.
“We were Ubering and having to get rides from people,” said Alisha, who was without a car for nine months. “It was very hard.”
The car is now hers because of a program called Recycled Rides that is overseen by the National Auto Body Council. Essentially, totaled cars are given to auto body shops to be fixed up and given away to veterans in need. Often, they come at just the right time.
For the families at CARSTAR, the patriotic aspect makes participating in the Recycled Rides effort even more appealing.
“We’re all about that,” said Patrick Cullaton.
In 2015, his son, Corey Cullaton, was looking for an Eagle Scout project. Inspired by his grandfather’s love for cars and work with Purple Heart recipients, Corey found a few old clunkers and restored them for a good cause.
It reignited a passion at the family business to help others in need.
“It seemed like a fixable car,” Corey recalled. “It was a definite pay[off] to see the two ladies that I gave the cars to, their expressions and their joy.”
Since then, CARSTAR has been steady in its car giveaways to veterans. They find worthy recipients through organizations like the Purple Heart, Clarks House, and Society of St. Vincent De Paul.
“You just feel it more and you know these people deserve it,” said Kevin Eggleston, whose son, Mark, is a 17-year Army veteran. “It’s a good feeling.”
Eggleston has worked in the collision industry for over 50 years. He preps cars for painting and helps with odd jobs around the CARSTAR campus. CARSTAR in Lakeland has given away 10 cars to veterans over the years.