PLAINSBORO — Starting in the mid-1980s on Route 1 and continuing for the last 25-plus years on Schalks Crossing Road, Princeton Alliance Church has accepted vehicle donations from the community, repaired those cars, and given them away to single parents and others who need transportation.

"There's just so many things that transportation does, so many paths to freedom on so many different fronts when you have transportation. And most of us never think about it," Toni Campbell, the church's benevolence director, said. "If there is any way that we can feasibly make a fiscally responsible choice to fix that car and put it in the hands of a family with no transportation, we do that."

The initiative is called Cars Ministry, and it primarily serves families in Cranbury, Dayton, East Windsor, Hightstown, Jamesburg, Kendall Park, Kingston, Monmouth Junction, Monroe, Plainsboro, Princeton, Princeton Junction, South Brunswick, and West Windsor.

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However, Campbell said if Princeton Alliance Church gets a referral from somewhere like another church, a domestic violence center, or a mental health facility, they will try to fulfill that request if they have enough vehicles on hand.

That's become more difficult this year: The church has only rarely advertised the service it provides out of a three-bay garage on its property, but to date they have only received 17 donations in 2022 and of those, Campbell said they have only given out about five.

But the list of those who need reliable cars is expanding. Once limited essentially to single moms, Cars Ministry now serves all single parents, some senior citizens, and most recently refugees who have found work in the Garden State.

When they settle in the suburbs, Campbell said, a lack of transportation can be especially pronounced, and a serious hardship.

"As a mom, I think about when my kids would get sick and I'd get that call, and I'm at work and now I've gotta go pick up my kids now, because they're throwing up, they're sick, they've got a fever, whatever," she said. "How do you do that when you don't have a car?"

The volunteers behind Cars Ministry don't do engine or transmission work, but tune up brakes, shocks, struts, batteries, lights, and window motors.

The donor gets a letter of acknowledgment or intent within 30 days, according to Campbell, specifying whether the church can fix their vehicle or has to junk it and put the money into other repairs.

"When it's something that is beyond our guys' ability but it's still a viable car, we have partnered with Mercer County Technical Schools," she said.

Those who put their former cars in the hands of Princeton Alliance Church are able to write off their donations when tax time comes, for which Campbell recommends hammering out the details with an accountant.

For more information on Cars Ministry, including how to apply for qualification, donate a vehicle, volunteer at the garage, or support the program financially, click here.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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