Henri's Heroes

Jim Collins, president of New Englanders Helping Our Veterans, and Bill Gately, co-owner of Henri’s Auto Repair, stand in front of the 2000 Buick LeSabre Custom they plan to raffle off to a local veteran on Nov. 12.

WOONSOCKET – For the third time in as many years, the owners of Henri’s Auto Repair on Park Avenue in Woonsocket will donate a used car to a military veteran in need.

Instead of their usual one vehicle, however, this year, the business is donating three cars to local veterans. Organizers plan to announce the recipients during a live drawing on WOON Radio on Nov. 12.

“They all took a lot of work to get going, but they’re really good cars,” said Bill Gately, co-owner of Henri’s Auto Repair along with Dave Lambert.

The business partners with New Englanders Helping Our Veterans, a veterans organization based in Burrillville, to coordinate the giveaway. Gately said he had the idea for the initiative in 2019 when a customer was looking to get rid of an old vehicle.

“One night, something struck in my head and I said, why fix it to make money? Let’s do something good with it, and that’s give it to a veteran who doesn’t have transportation,” he said.

This year, the group will give away three vehicles: a 2011 Mazda3 Sport, a 2003 Ford Focus and a 2000 Buick LeSabre Custom. All of the vehicles have had extensive repair work, including new brakes and engine repairs. Gately said most of the parts were donated by local auto parts stores, sometimes amounting to as much as $3,000 per vehicle.

Gately said he’s had several people offer to donate old vehicles after last year’s giveaway was featured in local media outlets. In some cases, he said, he had to turn away vehicles that weren’t roadworthy. In others, donors allowed him to junk the vehicles and put the cash toward repair costs or registration fees for the new owners.

“People just call and want to donate cars,” he said.

One family out of Burrillville, he said, donated a Buick that had belonged to a late grandmother whose grandson served in the Middle East.

“They said that she would be ecstatic that the car was going to a veteran,” Gately said.

Jim Collins, president of New Englanders Helping Our Veterans and a Burrillville resident, said the program offers an important resource for veterans with limited transportation options.

“It means a lot. Most of these guys, they would never have a chance to get a car because they live on such a small budget,” he said.

In 2019, the initiative’s first vehicle went to a 24-year Marine veteran from Woonsocket who had lost his apartment and was living in a camper in Connecticut. Last spring, the second vehicle went to a veteran from Warwick.

“Most vets are too proud to ask,” Collins said.

The giveaway is open to all active duty or retired military veterans who live locally and can demonstrate a need for a vehicle. Caregivers for active or retired military members are also welcome to apply.

Collins and Gately plan to draw a name from the eligible participants on Nov. 12. Last year, Gately said, they had 85 individuals apply.

Other local businesses that contributed to the effort include WOON Radio, New England Farms in Burrillville, Burrillville Motors, Raps Auto Parts Supply in Woonsocket and Woonsocket Auto Salvage.

To apply, veterans can contact Collins at president@nehov.org or call Henri’s Auto Repair at 401-762-2325 by Nov. 11.

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