Brian Menzies owned a car dealership, did extremely well for himself, and woke up one day wanting to do more. So he started 1-800-Charity Cars, a non-profit organization that donates cars to families in need in all 50 states. The amount of people they have been able to reach and help is remarkable. But what is even more remarkable is the spirit behind their mission.
Love and Water- When did you start 1-800-Charity Cars?
Brian Menzies- It started in 1996. I was in the automobile business, and had a fabulous year in 1995. I was sitting up one night, reviewing my life, and realized I wanted to do something meaningful to me. So I started Charity Cars at my dealership, just locally. We ended up getting some publicity that we didn’t expect, and an associated press article went national and we were on Oprah, and suddenly we were a national charity.
L&W- Can you explain how Charity Cars works?
BM- People who want to donate a car can call our 800 number, and based on the condition it’s in we determine whether we’re going to sell it, send it to the junk yard for salvage or to an auction, or if it’s cost-effective to repair. If we can save it, we get it repaired and notify a client through our website. The process of paperwork begins, and then we let the client know where they can pick up the vehicle. We do this in every state, including Alaska and Hawaii.
L&W- Who qualifies to receive a car?
BM- The recipient has to be within 200% of the federal poverty level. They have to be generally in need, and they have to be generating votes through our website.
L&W- Does the person donating the car receive a tax break as a result?
BM- The new tax laws require you to write off only what the charity uses the vehicle for. If we use the whole car, then you can write off the full fair market value of the car. If we only use a part of it for repairs, then you can only write off that part. So it behooves people to donate whatever they have and let us help them write it off. We handle the entire process ourselves- we don’t use a for-profit charity fundraiser. We’ve provided over 4,000 vehicles for families in need, which is more than any other charity who focuses on vehicle donations.
L&W- What’s the most moving moment you’ve had so far with giving these cars to families in need?
BM- In ’05 we gave away 101 cars in one day to kick off domestic violence awareness month in Chicago. It took us four hours to award each car. It’s a life-changing event for each person who receives one. People cry, they praise God. When you think about it, in the majority of places in the U.S. with the exception of the few big cities, you really need a car. There have been studies done that prove car ownership is one of the deciding factors of people getting themselves off of welfare. So it transforms lives. They can take their kids to the doctor, they can go to the grocery store, they can do what they need to do in everyday life. There was a single mother with two little girls, around five and seven, who we gave a car to. The little girls both started crying, and one held on to my one leg and the other held on to the other leg and they were just thanking me. It was very emotional, and that’s what is so rewarding.
L&W- So when you give them a car, they own it outright?
BM- In the state of Florida, we actually ween the car for a year so they can’t sell it for a tax break. But outside of Florida, we give them the title. We take great care to make sure each recpient is truly in need of a car.
L&W- I understand that Charity Cars has also expanded into other areas of giving, such as Charity Farms.
BM- Yes, we now have a 35 acre organic farmin Central Florida dedicated to feeding the poor and the elderly. We grow entirely organic crops to help improve the quality of lives of those who are in need. It has been a really gratifying experience, and watching it grow is just incredible. The produce is delivered same day of harvest to local food banks and then distributed to over 500 local area non-profits who serve those in need. There are now similar farms popping up all over the U.S. because the concept is so sustainable and helpful to those who need it.
L&W- How do monetary donations help you?
BM- We use donations to help repair the vehicles. Fortunately we’ve always had more money that cars to fix, and in the past we’ve been funders for other projects helping people in similar ways. We provide downpayments for insurance for people, and other things they may need.
L&W- What do you think of the concept of Love and Water?
BM- Very cool- very creative. I love the democratic feel of people creating products that then help charities. I think it’s a great thing. Plus, we really need a Charity Cars t-shirt, so maybe you’ll have the answer for us!