'Christmas miracle' brings Emergency Assistance Center a van

April Helms
Kent Weeklies
From left, George Dufour hands the van keys to Randy Hyde, Chairman of The Emergency Assistance Center. Also pictured is Joyce Hunt, executive director of The Emergency Assistance Center.

NORTHFIELD CENTER – The Emergency Assistance Center received an early Christmas gift Dec. 4 in the form of a new-to-them van.

Joyce Hunt, the executive director for the center, called it “a Christmas miracle.” Hunt said that she had been trying to get a grant to purchase a van for about seven years, both to make transporting donations from drop-off locations easier, and to start a mobile service for those who are unable to go to the center in person.

“It’s just so incredible,” Hunt said. “We are totally thrilled. It still doesn’t seem real.”

Due to two donations from George and Nancy Dufour, The Emergency Assistance Center was able to purchase a 2019 Ford Transit 250 extended mid-roof van on Nov. 23. The van had a bulkhead added about a week later. The bulkheads, Hunt explained, serve as “a partition between driver and passenger, and the cargo area so a canned good couldn’t roll over underneath pedals, or a can hit someone in the head.”

Getting the bulkheads was initially a challenge because those had been on back order, Hunt said. However, staff from Valley Truck Centers in Valley View, where the van was purchased, called and found out that “they were finally getting 13 of them in.”

Valley Truck Centers also will “provide a few complimentary oil changes and tire rotations,” Hunt added.

Classic Designs in Bedford will donate the wrap around the van, Hunt said.

“Different grants would come up,” Hunt said. “We’d fill out the paperwork, or go present, and everyone loved the idea, it’s just the amount of the grant was never what we needed to purchase a van.”

The most recent attempt was sponsored by State Farm, which encouraged nonprofit entities to submit their ideas for a neighborhood assist grant that would award $25,000 to the top 40 ideas.

“There were 2,000 entries throughout the country, and they selected 200,” Hunt said. “We made it into the 200.”

From there, the 200 were listed, and people were asked to visit the State Farm website for a 10-day period to vote for the idea they most supported, Hunt said. There are about 3.9 million votes cast nationwide. While the idea for the van started off strong, in the end, The Emergency Assistance Center did not make it into the top 40.

“In first couple days, we were in the mid-30s, and we hung on for a while,” Hunt said. She added there were “so many great causes, and I’m glad for those who got the funding.”

Soon after the contest ended, George Dufour called Hunt asking about the State Farm grant. She told him that they were not in the top 40. Later, Dufour called Randy Hyde, the chairman of TEAC, and offered to make a donation for the purchase.

“We had been donating to the assistance center for a number of years,” said George Dufour “I was reading the write-up [for the State Farm grant] and we were so taken with what they wanted to do.  We were impressed with the idea of helping homebound seniors and veterans. My wife and I talked, and we decided then if they don’t get the grant from State Farm, we would give them the grant.”

Dufour said that after Halloween, he stopped by the center to drop off some leftover Halloween candy for distribution, and when he asked about the State  Farm grant, she had told him that morning they had found out that they were not in the top 40.

“I felt so bad for her, she was so excited to possibly get this,” Dufour said. “So I went home, talked to my wife and told her, and she still agreed about making the donation.”

Some time later, Dufour had called asking about the progress in finding a van, Hunt said. When told that the center was struggling to find a good van within the current financial limits, the Dufours made a second contribution, which allowed the center to make the purchase.

The interior of The Emergency Assistance Center Ford 250 Transit Van shows space to hold a lot of donations.

The van in coming at a good time for the center, Hunt said. As the organization has grown, it’s become increasingly difficult to find ways to transport donations from drop-off points to the center.

“I’ve literally been calling people ‘what size vehicle do you have? Are you free at this time to do this pickup?’” Hunt said.

The job has been made even more difficult with the pandemic, she added. “We are already working with fewer volunteers. There’s a concern and a fear in going into a very public building, and rightly so. A lot of our volunteers are seniors.”

In addition, getting a van will fulfill another mission Hunt has had: starting a mobile service so The Emergency Assistance Center can deliver food and hygiene items to people who face obstacles in coming to the center.

“We do that a little bit already," Hunt said. “Example, we’ve been serving low-income seniors in Twinsburg. But we thought beyond that, there may be other pockets of seniors we could be helping. For example, veterans who have ventured to us - we discovered after talking, many veterans are very shy and almost ashamed for coming into a place like a food pantry. For their lives, they have served people. Maybe this is a group where we could go to their turf.”

The Emergency Assistance Center is at 9199 Olde 8 Road, Suite C, in Northfield Center. For details, call 330-467-7945 or visit teacenter.org online.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at ahelms@thebeaconjournal.com