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Liberty Bay Auto giveaway pays it forward

POULSBO — Art Speight arrived at Liberty Bay Auto Friday afternoon thinking he was there to pick up sleeping bags for his Taking It to the Streets Ministries organization.

But he quickly realized otherwise.

Making an entrance to a showroom full of applauding friends, family members and Liberty Bay Auto staff, Speight was presented with the keys to a 2003 Ford Winstar LX, an act of holiday giving that will bolster his mission to assist hundreds of homeless and hungry people in Kitsap County.

“The van is something that he can use to meet other people’s needs,” said Liberty Bay Auto general manager Doug Houghton. “We don’t just touch a few people, we touch hundreds of families.”

The van, which was previously used as a shuttle by the auto store and recently refurbished, came stuffed with groceries and a year’s supply of maintenance and gas.

Speight seemed more than happy - and a bit surprised - in taking over ownership of the vehicle.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “I am very blessed and pleased.”

Poulsbo City Councilwoman Connie Lord was on hand to celebrate the occasion, and said it was both impressive and inspiring.

“Once again, the city is always so impressed with the generosity of our merchants, especially Liberty Bay Auto,” she said. “I wish more of this could happen.”

Liberty Bay Auto co-owner Heather Church said she, along with five others, formed a committee to choose a winner from the 65 applications submitted. The task was a difficult one, and while she said she wishes they had 65 vans to give away, Speight was a very well-deserving choice, as he serves food to hundreds of homeless each week.

“He does a huge service to the community,” she said. “It was one guy spreading himself so thin.”

MaryAnn Smith started the movement of those who wrote in to nominate Speight, and said a van for the work he does was badly needed.

“He’s my hero,” she said.

Liberty Bay Auto replaces its customer shuttle van every three years, and donates the gently-used retired vehicles to a person or family in need in the community. The auto dealer gave away a similar van in December 2004. Nearly 200 applications were submitted that year, representing 131 families.

Internet and marketing director Rene Sontolongo said the company will have another refurbished van to give away in two to three years. It’s a process, he said, that is “exhilarating and heartbreaking at the same time.”

“We get so many nominations for deserving families out there,” Sontolongo said. “I only wish we had more vans to give away ... I can’t wait for the next one.”

Liberty Bay Auto has served customers in the area since 1989. Its showroom boasts a miniature country store and vintage memorabilia shop. For more information, visit www.libertybayauto.com.

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