Donna and Jeff Hazeltine, who own and operate American Import Auto on East Venice Avenue, say it is not unusual for a customer to give them a broken car rather than pay to have it fixed.

“When that’s happened in the past, we’ve taken the car, repaired it and sold it,” Jeff Hazeltine said.

In July, a customer gave them a 2005 Saturn sport utility vehicle in need of a costly repair — a broken timing belt that rendered the car inoperable.

Donna Hazeltine said she and her husband decided that this time they would fix the car and give it away to a needy family that could not afford a car.

“We decided we wanted to donate the car to someone who needed a car and who is out there trying to make their lives better,” Donna Hazeltine said.

She contacted organizations in the community and asked them to recommend a family. Several possible recipients were considered before a choice was made.

On Thursday morning, Pamela Chal saw her car for the first time.

A big smile flashed across Chal’s face as she stood next to the highly polished red sport utility vehicle with gray leather seats. The smile gave way to tears of happiness when Chad Hazeltine, the couple’s son and owner of Goosehead Insurance, opened a rear door and pulled out a box containing a child’s safety seat, which he donated.

Chal has a 3-year-old son, David, who has heretofore traveled on the back of his mother’s bicycle or in a stroller.

“I feel very good. I’m so happy. We needed a car so I can get to my job and to the food store,” said Chal, who primarily speaks Spanish but is enrolled in English as a Second Language classes.

To get to and from Venice to those classes in Sarasota, Chal has had to take buses that involve a transfer each way. Now she will drive to and from class.

A car, she said, will also enable her to work more hours as a nursing assistant at an assisted living facility in Venice.

Chal and her son, who attends pre-school, live at A Mother’s House, which describes itself as “a residential program for homeless mothers of children up to the age of three. Moms stay with us for up to two years to achieve self-sufficiency when they leave.” A Mother’s House is operated by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Venice, Inc.

Therese Spaude-Larsen, Chal’s caseworker at A Mother’s House, was one of the people Donna Hazeltine contacted this summer when seeking a recipient for the car. Spaude-Larsen wrote a letter of recommendation in support of Chal.


She described Chal as “motivated, hard-working, honest and kind-hearted.” She has “a joyful spirit that shines through her smile and leads her onward to achieve her goals.”

Chal is a native of the Dominican Republic who emigrated to the United States about three years ago with a husband and baby, Spaude-Larson said. Chal is going through a divorce and has set a series of goals for herself.

She was saving money to buy a car, and after that planned to save money for a house.

“Pamela is a worthy candidate for an automobile donation,” Spaude-Larsen said in her letter to the Hazeltines. “She has been saving for a car, but that money also could be used to move into a home of her own when she leaves our program.”

Chal said in her two-page letter to the Hazeltines, “I have seen the need for a car because it is very important for a person to become independent.”

The Hazeltines were sold.

On Thursday, Chal rode with Spaude-Larsen to the Division of Motor Vehicles office in South Venice, where they rendezvoused with the Hazeltines. The donors and the recipient had not met until then.

The group went into the DMV office, did the necessary paperwork to transfer ownership of the car to Chal, and then went out into the parking lot.

The 2005 vehicle has a new engine, new tires and has had a complete overhaul to ensure performance and safety.

“This really is like a new car,” Jeff Hazeltine said.

Chal, who is effusive in her praise for A Mother’s House, was clearly touched by the gift from the Hazeltine family, as well.

Jeff Hazeltine was also smiling.

“I think it’s awesome that we can do this,” he said. “It makes us feel unbelievably good. From here on, when somebody gives us a car, this is what we’re going to do.”

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