Wheels Cincinnati: Changing Lives One Car at a Time

"You have to think about what you usually do in your daily life and then think about what you could not do if you didn't have a car," says Matt Murphy, a Wheels Cincinnati board member.
Gerry Reisert and Steve Fromhold ready a donated car for a new owner.
Gerry Reisert and Steve Fromhold ready a donated car for a new owner.Photography by Catie Viox

There are timeless sayings that endure across generations because they have been proven true time and again. Similar to the adage “You never miss the water till the well runs dry” or the famous lyrics “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone,” drivers may sometimes overlook how heavily they depend on their cars until they are without one.

At Wheels Ministry, it’s their mission to offer donated cars to those in need of a little extra help.

“Every car has a story,” says Matt Murphy, a Wheels Ministry board member. “We have single moms trying to raise children and run a family. We see young people who have grown up in poverty or the foster system and are working hard to overcome financial barriers. We have people who get out of prison and want to make an honest living but have so many things stacked against them. We have people who missed months of work due to medical problems, fall into a financial hole and need a helping hand to get out.”

The struggle and inconvenience of living in a city without great public transportation is often the breaking point for many a Wheels recipient.

“You have to think about what you usually do in your daily life and then think about what you could not do if you didn’t have a car,” says Murphy. “Getting to work is the biggest one, followed by losing opportunities to get a higher-paying job or getting to appointments — or doing anything multiple times a day.

“Then there are things you might not think about, like trying to go grocery shopping for your family without a car. How would you visit friends and relatives? The list goes on and on. All of these things become very challenging when you don’t have your own car.”

The Wheels Ministry receives many of the donated cars from people who attend nondenominational churches such as Crossroads, Vineyard, Northstar, and Whitewater Crossing, and they accept donations from anyone. The cars are repaired by about 40 regular volunteers.

“Our ministry started near Christmas of 2001,” Murphy recalls. “Al Duebber had a widow and mother of three pull into his auto repair business for the umpteenth time and found out that her car simply wasn’t worth fixing. She needed a new car that she couldn’t afford.

“She broke down emotionally in front of everyone and, after she left, Al had a proposal for his team. He knew a certain car that he could get for next to nothing and if the crew stayed late working on it, without pay, he’d pay for all the parts needed to get the car up and running.

“They were able to present the car to the woman on Christmas Eve. The experience was so satisfying that they decided to give away another one. Since then, we’ve given away almost 1,500 cars.”

“People often ask what type of car we’re most in need of,” says Murphy. “Truthfully, any car that runs or can be made to run with a few repairs is perfect. We’re not picky!

One of the most heartwarming moments for the ministry is when a previous beneficiary who has recovered donates their car back to Wheels to aid the next person in need.

“They want to pay the blessing forward,” Murphy says.

Have a car you want to donate to Wheels Ministry? Visit wheelscinci.org or call 513-873-2610 for more information. To read additional recipient stories, follow the ministry on Facebook @Wheelstransinc.

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