When Ashley Raby, a single mother of two young boys who has been relying on friends and her grandmother’s car to get to work and doctors appointments, was asked what impact being the recipient of a free “Wheels of Hope” car would have on her life, she said, “It’s going to relieve a lot of stress.”

I’ve heard the same from previous car recipients.

You may be surprised that a Ford Fiesta could engender such a big smile and happy response. It’s a serviceable and economical car, but not one to inspire automotive dreams. Yet the relief of stress is profound.

Imagine yourself headed up the Columbia River after an evening performance in Portland, intent on getting home, and suddenly noticing the gas warning light is on. Still on—you remember seeing it as you arrived at the theater.

Rolling along the dark corridor of Interstate 84, stations before and behind miles away, you start to get a little stressed. Will you make it? Will the gas station still be open? You start to feel stressed.

Then you realize your credit/debit/checking card at home, and you spent the last of your cash on parking. Your phone is dead, and who would you call, anyway?

It’s a scary scenario, a stressful scenario, but one that is a daily reality for a great many residents of The Dalles.

Of course, those in poverty are unlikely to be driving home from a Portland theater. More likely they are driving between work sites, and perhaps they had to stop and have a tire repaired. They probably knew when they left for work that the gas light would come on before they arrived home, and spent the entire trip calculating ways and means to stave off the inevitable.

In some ways, they are ahead of the game: They have been dealing with this for a long time. They likely have an empty gas can in the back of their car, so if they have to hoof it from Rowena to The Dalles picking up cans for gas money they won’t have to buy a new can as well. And they never forget their credit/debit/checking cards. They just don’t have any money in their accounts. But they know exactly how much cash they have, the just don’t have enough, and can accurately calculate the odds of finding enough change under the car seat.

But all those challenges create a great deal of stress.

Struggling to maintain reliable transportation when you are poor is tough. Having no car at all increases that stress exponentially. You can’t really ride a bike to Hood River at 6 a.m. in winter, and rural bus service has its own challenges. Relying on friends and acquaintances generates its own kind of stress.

No surprise, then, that receiving “Wheels of Hope” gives you, first, a profound sense of relief.

It’s one of the many gifts worth giving, one more cause worth supporting.

It’s a good way to start the holiday season, a reminder that while requests for support and donations can seem overwhelming at this time of year, the need is great and the hope you can offer profound.

Mark Gibson is editor of The Dalles Chronicle.

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