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St. Jude’s to receive free Toyota van

St. Jude’s Ranch for Children in Boulder City has put social media to “Good” use.

Through Toyota’s annual 100 Cars for Good promotion, the facility that houses at-risk children in the foster care system has earned a new Toyota Sienna.

The social media campaign ran from Oct. 1 through Nov. 19, asking online voters to select two nonprofit organizations each day to win a new vehicle. Winners were able to select either a Highlander, Prius, Sienna, Sienna Mobility or Tundra. St. Jude’s was elected a winner and is expected to receive its new vehicle early next year.

“We are so grateful to everyone who voted for us,” said Christine Spadafor, chief executive officer of St. Jude’s. “We had people all over the country voting for us. Nevada certainly led the pack, but in order to win the van it really took supporters from all over the country.”

She said Toyota didn’t reveal the number of votes it received. “We had enough; that’s all that matters,” Spadafor said.

Additionally, she expressed her gratitude to Toyota for “their generosity in supporting this program” and the opportunity it presented to St. Jude’s.

“We are a car company, and thought why not use our primary product to help communities and organizations strengthen their mission and broaden their reach,” said Kathy Mota, community engagement specialist for Toyota. “That’s how the 100 Cars for Good program was born.

“It was an opportunity for our product to be the star of our giving — the vehicle, if you will — to help a nonprofit become stronger,” she said.

Each new vehicle comes with a six-year, 100,000-mile engine warranty from Toyota Financial Services, which partners with Toyota Motor Co. for the project, Mota said.

One stipulation of winning is that the vehicle not be sold for cash or used as a prize in a raffle. Mota said the reasoning behind this rule was to honor the intent of the program, which was to assist nonprofits.

“When they apply, we ask them how they will use the vehicle to serve the purpose of their organization and we would like to honor that,” she said.

Since 100 Cars for Good began in 2010, Toyota has provided 300 vehicles to nonprofit organizations across the United States.

St. Jude’s will use the minivan to provide transportation to children to places such as school, recreational activities, visits with family members and doctors’ appointments. Many of the vehicles currently in service at the facility have more than 100,000 miles on them and are not fuel efficient.

According to Spadafor, a van is “not a luxury; it is a necessity. Every parent — and we are foster parents — wants to transport their child in a safe and energy-efficient manner.”

The Sienna will seat eight passengers and is large enough to move “the entire family in one of our homes,” Spadafor said. “We will use the van for everything other families use to move their kids around, and we have got a lot of kids. It’s our family vehicle.”

Other winners range from groups that provide water sports for disabled children in Alabama to one that rescues animals in rural Wyoming.

According to Mota, the program, the first of its kind for Toyota, was started with the idea of having a broad reach across America.

“We actually asked (nonprofits in) every state in the country to apply and we got finalists from all 50 states,” she said.

Once Toyota received all the applications, the field was narrowed to 250 finalists, which were then pooled into groups of five for online voting.

“It was very tough to narrow down the pool of very deserving nonprofits,” Mota said. “They all do great work.”

Among the criteria for selecting the finalists was Toyota’s three priority areas: education, environment and safety, especially on the road and when driving. She said they also were looking to have as great a geographic reach as possible.

She said one of the “cool things” about the program was how much they learned about the power of social media.

“It helped raise the visibility of these programs’ social profiles and we helped them with tools and tips to better navigate social channels to raise that visibility, along with how to leverage those social channels,” Mota said. “Actually, we’re learning along with everyone else, but we knew it was a powerful tool for outreach.”

Spadafor said St. Jude’s has been using social media heavily for the past year, and it has been effective in increasing awareness of the ranch.

Additional information about the program is available at www.100carsforgood.com.

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