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Mechanic helps fix lives – one car at a time

Navy veteran Jerri Baker checks out his wife’s car in their garage. Baker, a mechanic, buys older cars that are in decent running condition, fixes them and then donates them to people in need. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Editor’s note: Ready for a steady dose of good news? Today, the Journal kicks off “The Good News File,” a series of stories in partnership with KOAT-TV and KKOB Radio that will highlight those who are making our community a better place. The Journal will publish a Good News File feature the first Friday of the month, KOAT-TV will present its feature every second Friday of the month and KKOB will feature one every third Friday.

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

It was St. Patrick’s Day and Danuta Allen could see nothing but a curtain of snow as she glanced out of the passenger window of the van she and her family had rented to move across the country to New Mexico.

Her husband, Hassie Allen, was driving and in the back were their four children ranging in age from 4 to 19. The family was caught off-guard by the spring snowstorm that walloped the panhandle of Texas last month as they traveled from North Carolina to Albuquerque to start a new life.

“We almost died two times trying to get here,” she said. “It was like a blizzard. We were unable to see anything.”

At one point during their journey, Allen said they were almost run off the road by a semi-truck. Not too far from Amarillo, they slid and nearly plunged off a bridge.

It was yet another harrowing moment in the traumatic few months the family had endured.

Hassie Allen lost his job last year due to the pandemic and the family’s car was repossessed. The family had been wanting to move to Albuquerque for some time and figured it was a good time to make a break. Danuta Allen said the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship was the big draw.

Tragically, Danuta Allen’s mother passed away from COVID-19 on Jan. 17, and her father, upset by it all, had a mild stroke shortly before Allen and her family left North Carolina. Allen said it was hard to leave him, but he has since recovered and plans to move to Missouri to be with her brother.

The Allens knew if they could just make it through the Texas storm, warm beds, their church family and possibly a brighter future awaited them.

They arrived in Albuquerque on March 18 and things were off to a good start. Hassie Allen secured a well-paid job right away. There was one major problem, though. He had no car to get to work.

That’s when Jerri Baker came into their lives.

Jerri Baker, far left, poses with the Allen family. The family has just moved to Albuquerque to start a new life and Baker gave them a van. (Courtesy of Gionne Ralph)

A few months before the Allens arrived in Albuquerque, the young adult son of a family Baker and his wife know needed a vehicle. The young man had completed a program at Central New Mexico Community College and secured a job in his field, but had no reliable transportation.

Baker, a mechanic for 20 years, bought a Hyundai Elantra for $500, fixed it up, registered it under the young man’s name, paid for the first month’s insurance and handed him the keys.

“He had tears in his eyes,” he said. “He had never had a car in his name.”

Baker, who relies on his faith, said he felt God was calling him to continue helping others. He posted on Nextdoor, an app that lets people communicate with their neighbors, looking for cars to buy and people to help.

“I wanted to show you don’t have to have a $1 million company to help people,” he said. “A little bit of money can help change people’s lives.”

Local Healing Water Ministries pastor Gionne Ralph saw Baker’s post and reached out to him. Ralph was friends with the Allens and had supported their move to Albuquerque.

“He said he could not help at that moment because he only had a Honda Accord and that’s not big enough,” Ralph said. “During our conversation, someone called him and said they had a van for sale. He said he knew God had intervened for us.”

Danuta Allen and her husband, Hassie Allen, pose in front of the Honda Odyssey van donated to their family by West Side mechanic Jerri Baker. (Courtesy of Gionne Ralph)

Baker purchased the van for $1,000 and, before giving it to the Allens, gave the car a tune-up, fixed the automatic doors, repaired the air-conditioner, and installed a new battery, tires and belts, which cost an additional $1,000.

The Allens were in complete awe and disbelief at Baker’s kindness.

“You don’t believe any more that people do nice things for you without wanting something in return,” Danuta Allen said. “My husband cried – and he doesn’t cry like that. I’m usually the crybaby.”

Ralph collected $500 from the church to help pay for the van, but Baker refused the money. Baker said he knows what it’s like to be without a car and struggling for money because it’s something he experienced as a young man. His wife has a good job as a nurse that allows them to do this. He’s given away five cars so far and does not plan to stop.

“There is something calling me to do this,” he said. “It’s brought me so much joy to see their faces.”

If you have a story you would like to suggest for this series, please send your tip to ebriseno@abqjournal.com.

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