For U.S. Army veteran Leilani White, a recently donated vehicle is a reliable transport to medical therapy, a backseat entertainment system for four young children and a shopping cart for fresh food from local farmers markets.
“Strawberries, oranges, plums… I’ve never been so excited to go grocery shopping,” laughed White.
She received a Chrysler Pacifica from U.S. Bank as part of a program in which it donates vehicles – including 14 around Veterans Day – and homes to veterans with nonprofits Freedom Alliance and Operation Homefront.
White enlisted in the Army at 19 years old in June 2001, with the intention of serving her country while instilling values such as discipline into her adulthood. Three months later, 9/11 happened, and soon after she was deployed among the first waves in Afghanistan, tasked with setting up infrastructure like postal service capabilities.
“To be honest, my mind was everywhere [in those first days],” she said. “I really wanted to make sure my family was feeling OK. My dad would say ‘I saw this on TV’ and ‘I saw that on TV’ so I had to tell him to turn it off.”
She said that, meanwhile, “I woke up every day praying that I would be able to come home again.”
Today, White manages post-traumatic stress as well as physical disabilities while living civilian life in Morrow, Georgia, with her husband and four children who range in age from 5 to 12. Before receiving the vehicle donation, their reliance on public transportation and rideshares strained finances and family time (not to mention causing safety concern amid the pandemic).
“It’s our privilege to give back to veterans like Leilani,” said Tim Welsh, vice chair of Consumer and Business Banking at U.S. Bank, the division that manages the donation programs. “Veterans and their families make incredible sacrifices in service to our country and we’re proud to be able to honor them in this way.”
U.S. Bank, which was recently recognized by Military Times as the No. 3 employer for veterans in the United States, has donated 22 mortgage-free homes and 22 debt-free vehicles to veterans in need since 2013.
In Abilene, Texas, Army veteran Ramiro Carrasco and Marine Corps veteran Aimee Carrasco had been sharing a pickup truck with 334,000 miles. Doing so not only gave them concern about it breaking down but also forced them to make difficult decisions about which of their children (three of their five are under 10 years old) get to do which activities. Of the donation, Ramiro said, “This is a much-needed blessing for our family. It will remove so many sacrifices and so much heartache from us that our family will once again be able to make wonderful memories together. This vehicle is also a reminder of the generosity and kindness that exists in our nation.”
In Hopkins, Minnesota, Army veteran Jessi Faue had been without a reliable vehicle since earlier this year when she saw her well-traveled SUV begin to smoke and then go up in flakes while parked at a gas station. Transportation is critical, as she was works two jobs to provide for her three daughters under 10 years old – and also volunteers at the VA to help reduce veteran suicides. Of the donation, Faue said, “It really provides a sense of relief to know that I’ll have a reliable mode of transportation to get to work, get the kids where they need to go, and just have that financial burden taken away,” adding, “I’m going to tear up a little bit.”
In San Diego, Army veteran Joshua Hooker and his partner recently welcomed the fifth addition to their family. For the Purple Heart recipient, however, another baby on board meant that their current vehicle situation became untenable as he would need to find space for another stroller in addition to his wheelchair and medical equipment. Of the donation, Hooker said, “[The new vehicle] will give me the confidence to seek opportunities and adventures, knowing we have a reliable vehicle. This is a fantastic blessing to our family and words cannot express my gratefulness.”
Beyond White, the Carrascos, Faue and Hooker, the vehicle donation recipients span the country: Army veteran Delicia Jackson in Bloomfield, Colorado; Army veteran Helmer Flores in Tampa, Florida; Army veteran Chad Childers in Jacksonville, Florida; Navy veteran Timothy Duffy in Austell, Georgia; Army veteran Crystal Guzman in Crookston, Minnesota; Marine Corps veteran Jessica McCue in Wantage, New Jersey; Army veteran Deonty Eastmon in Las Vegas, Nevada; Army veteran Hicham Ouafi in Middletown, New York; Navy veteran Joe Barrow in Cincinnati, Ohio; and Air Force veteran Angela Morales-Biggs in Manassas, Virginia.
In addition to hitting farmers markets and pursuing her lifelong love of cooking, Leilani White said the new, debt-free vehicle is improving their financial situation today and helping them save for tomorrow – which, of course, carries a level of uncertainty amid the pandemic.
But most importantly, White said, it relieves a stressor and allows her to focus on her family.
Speaking to her children, she said, “I’m grateful to be here to love and support you.”