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Missoula church shows nuts and bolts of community outreach through free car repairs

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Posted at 8:22 PM, Apr 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-28 13:12:50-04

MISSOULA — In times like these, a little compassion can go a long way, especially for folks down on their luck.

Through the MAC Garage, Missoula Alliance Church is showing up for the community, offering some of that compassion, all the while, doing a quick oil change.

“The garage idea started in 2010, so it's been going since that time. Somebody had the brilliant idea, and it wasn't me, that it was a need in the community,” said garage coordinator Patty Barnett.

She remembers the very incident that called her congregation to give their outreach a little tuneup.

“It was a single parent who was on the way to work, and her car wouldn't start,” recalled Barnett, “She has a young child...so now you're in a bad situation, you don't show up for work, you can lose your job, but you can't get your kids to daycare using the bus system or whatever.”

That was all it took for Missoula Alliance Church to convert an old garage into a fully functioning auto shop where volunteers from area churches offer minor work on vehicles - specifically for single parents.

“If someone comes up for an oil change the guys also do a safety check, they look at the fluids, they look at the tires, they look to see if there are other issues that are gonna cause a problem for the parent, and that way you're adding stability to the family,” said Barnett.

Customers of the MAC Garage leave with more than just a safety check or some new wiper blades.

“Sometimes, single parent families might have limited resources, and when I think of resources, it's not just financial, it's a support network, or somebody you can trust, or somebody you can ask for advice. We're providing, hopefully, not just an oil change, but somebody you can trust, who can look at your car and say, ‘This is what's really going on.’”

This idea of honest, neighborly help is exactly what drew lead mechanic Michael Balaguy to MAC Garage, even though he attends a church in Hamilton.

“Since we don't charge for anything, they know they're getting a fair shake when we tell them something's wrong and something needs to be replaced, and it's nice to have that bond of trust with people,” said Balaguy.

According to Barnett, the work may be messy, but the message is simple, "we believe that God cares about people who are in a hard place, and we're trying to be like God.”

MAC Garage operates twice a month, September through June. You can learn more here.