The 2002 Toyota Highlander was falling to pieces.
“It had no bumpers, front or back,” Aniyyah Winkey-Lebron said. “The car shook when we drove it past 40 (miles per hour).”
Transportation was not the vehicle’s only function. It served as a home for Winkey-Lebron, fiancé Nicholas Johnson and their 2-year-old daughter Karen.
“We lived in that for a year,” said Winkey-Lebron, 25, who hails from Howell.
The couple had fallen on hard times, and the car’s unreliability hurt their employment prospects. Credit problems deepened the hole. It was no way to live, especially with a toddler.
Working in concert, two Monmouth County goodwill organizations came to their rescue. Family Promise provided emergency shelter and a job opportunity. Lunch Break assigned them a life-skills coach and a lead on affordable housing.
Everything hinged on the car, though. In late October came the surprise of a lifetime: A free 2009 Hyundai Sonata, courtesy of Sansone Jr.’s 66 Automall in Neptune.
“I cried, I was so happy,” Winkey-Lebron said. “This car has changed our lives so much.”
Here’s how: Both Winkey-Lebron and Johnson are holding down full-time jobs in the housekeeping department at Sheraton Eatontown Hotel, Karen is in day care and the family just got the keys to an apartment in Plumsted.
“This honestly will be the best Christmas I’ve ever had,” Winkey-Lebron said. “I didn’t know there were so many people who actually care and would help people like me.”