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Charity helps family get back on the road

A red Isuzu Trooper pulled up to the front doors of the Hyatt Regency Wichita, and Faith Weiand had a simple but excited reaction.

"Cool," the 7-year-old said before letting out a loud giggle and climbing in the backseat.

Faith's parents, Darci and Raymond Weiand, were given the 1994 SUV on Tuesday from Cars 4 Christmas, a Kansas City, Mo.-based nonprofit that donates cars to people in need each December.

The Arkansas City family has two cars but has struggled to keep both running. Raymond Weiand hit a deer on his way to work two weeks ago, and the family's minivan needed several repairs.

Weiand works in Winfield, 20 miles from home, and said he was using all the family's extra money to fix the cars, but as soon as one was running the other would break down.

"It was two weeks of nightmares," he said. "It all seems to happen at once."

Darci Weiand, a full-time master's degree student in social work at Wichita State University, drives to the WSU west campus at 37th and Maize Road once a week. She also interns at Cowley County Safe Homes, a crisis intervention center in Winfield. She plans to graduate in May and said she wants to work with abused women and children.

Cars 4 Christmas donated 10 cars to Wichita-area families and individuals Tuesday. Each was told they were selected to receive a car, but did not know what kind until they walked outside to see it.

The Weiands, who have four children, all younger than 8, said they are happy to have a car big enough for their family.

"It's going to be so nice not having to worry if we're going to have to take two vehicles, if we're going to have to borrow my mom's car, if it is going make it all the way to work, or if it is going to make it back to the house," Darci said.

Jennifer Cooper, also got a car, and a surprise.

Cooper's friends filled the 1997 Saturn SL1 with presents for her and her two children. Penny Allen, a friend a former co-worker, nominated her to receive the car and helped collect the gifts.

"Since then people started donating cash, and it just snowballed from there," Allen said.

In April, Cooper's 12-year-old son, Khalil Reed, went to the doctor after complaining of stomachaches at school. A day later he was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma, a fast-growing cancer, and underwent surgery that day at Via Christi Regional Medical Center-St. Joseph Campus. After three more surgeries and five rounds of chemotherapy, he died Dec. 9.

Cooper lost her job at a Holiday Inn and her car because she could not go to work or make car payments while staying by Khalil's bedside.

"It was one of the things where I felt like I needed to be there with him," Cooper said. "I felt like my other kids understood that I needed to be there."

In July her two younger children moved in with their grandmother in Blanca, Colo. Cooper will take her new car, full of presents, to Colorado this week to visit them.

"After everything I had been through, this is such a blessing," she said.

Terry Franz, founder of Cars 4 Christmas, said the 14-year-old nonprofit began operating in Wichita three years ago.

"Nobody's winning the lottery," Franz said. "We're giving away donated cars. We make sure they are mechanically sound. Some are pretty; some are not."

A committee of eight people from the organization's board of directors picks people who can use a car to get or keep a job and to become successful enough to eventually buy their own car.

"I'm just giving them a tool to get there," Franz said.

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