It may have 120,000 miles on it and once been considered officially “non-repairable,” but it’s all his.

A single dad with three young children, Joshua Johnson of Waseca now has a way to get around. Thanks to Jerry’s Body Shop of Mankato taking part in the national Recycled Rides program, Johnson last week received a refurbished 1996 Buick Regal to call his own.

Sounds simple — getting around — but unless you’ve been stranded by a lack of transportation or inconvenienced by transportation that is less than ideal, you may not understand.

If you don’t have a vehicle, it’s often difficult to get to your job, your child’s school, your church, your supermarket. Johnson had to take to the bicycle to buy groceries for his family, which may have kept him physically fit, but would be taxing for someone buying for a family of four, or for a physically challenged person. And that doesn’t even factor in getting around during our harsh winters.

Not having transportation is often one of the primary barriers to employment and one of the factors that locks people into poverty. That is especially true in rural areas that may offer limited or no public transportation.

Beyond the practical reasons for getting from point A to point B, not having access to transportation also can lead to social isolation — especially for the more physically frail or challenged. Anyone who has been part of family conversations about whether their elderly parents should still be driving knows what a blow it can be to mom or dad’s independence to retire the car keys.

Low-income car ownership program participants not only increase their earnings and decrease their dependence on government assistance but also become more involved in their communities, according to the Casey Foundation.

Fixing vehicles is Jerry’s Body Shop’s business and the employees there are well aware of what having wheels means to people. They deserve a pat on the back for helping out people who can’t manage to buy a car on their own.

It was clear this summer with the immense popularity of the federal Cash for Clunkers rebate program that lots of vehicle owners were ready to give up their older vehicles to trade up. For one reason or another, some of those vehicles didn’t qualify for the rebate program. Those vehicle owners still have an opportunity to get something out of their used vehicles. The Minnesota Valley Action Council will take donated cars off people’s hands through their Wheel Get There program and fix them up for their clients to buy at low cost.

MVAC, which helped Jerry’s Body Shop select the Johnsons to receive the fixed-up Buick, began addressing the personal transportation dilemma in 1998. The popularity of the program is growing. In 2001, just 19 vehicles were donated. Last year, the number was 148. The agency so far this year is at 144 vehicles and is expected to reach 195 by year’s end. December is Wheel Get There’s busiest month as people make donations to lock in their tax deductions. (To donate a vehicle, contact Dan Jones at 1-800-767-7139 or 345-0446, or visit the MVAC Web site: www.mnvac.org.)

In an ideal world, public transportation would be available to all who need to get around. With state, county and city government programs being slashed, it’s not likely that will happen anytime soon. In the meantime, it’s up to communities to do what they can to help out their neighbors.

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