Dealer finds flood victim a new ride

Horton Avenue resident Shayolande Childress behind the wheel of her new ride, a 2003 Jeep Cherokee. Riverhead Toyota picked up most of the car’s cost after she lost her Nissan in March’s flooding.

Horton Avenue resident Shayolande Childress recalled how devastated she felt during last March’s rainstorm when she looked out her window and saw her 2001 Nissan Altima nearly submerged after a flood swept through her street.

She was all smiles Monday when she picked up an SUV from Riverhead Toyota, the cost almost entirely covered by the Route 58 dealership and donations to the Horton Avenue flood fund.

“I don’t know what I would have been able to do,” she said. “It’s hard to get up the money to buy a car. I would have kept fighting to find a way to get help.”

Although her home was not affected by the flooding, everyday tasks like going to the grocery store or getting to work became a major burden after losing her car, Ms. Childress said. She began relying on family members and shelling out money for cabs to get around, but she knew that neither was a long-term solution.

A single mom working as a prep cook at The Lobster Roll in Riverhead, she said her funds were tight so she approached her neighbor and fellow Horton Avenue flood victim, Linda Hobson, for advice.

Ms. Hobson, a social worker who has since taken on the role of community organizer, spokesperson and advocate for her flood-affected neighbors, has helped dozens of people get back on their feet since the late March storm devastated her low-lying block. She has helped people find money to fix their hot water heaters, gotten them clothes and household items and found housing for families whose homes became uninhabitable. So, of course, she agreed to take on the task of finding Ms. Childress a new ride.

“We work toward meeting everybody’s needs,” Ms. Hobson said.

She approached Riverhead Toyota owner Ted Lucki for help finding an affordable car and perhaps even for financial help.

“She was looking for a piece of junk,” Mr. Lucki said. But after following the plight of Horton Avenue flood victims over the past few months, he wanted Ms. Childress to drive something a little nicer. He found her a gray 2003 Jeep Grand Cherokee in excellent condition that someone had traded in.

Though Mr. Lucki was reluctant to admit how much of the cost was picked up by Riverhead Toyota, he did say it was more than half the value of the car, which retails for about $7,500. The Horton Avenue flood fund gave about $2,000 and Ms. Childress added $500 of her own money. That would put Mr. Lucki’s contribution at somewhere around $5,000.

“They needed help and we’re part of the community,” he explained.

Ms. Childress said she couldn’t have been happier as she hugged Ms. Hobson after getting behind the wheel for the first time.

“Horton Avenue has been truly blessed,” Ms. Hobson said.

After the title was transferred, the final step was for Ms. Childress to surprise her 12-year-old son, Tysheem Hudgins, with the shiny SUV in their driveway. “Her son is going to be so happy,” said Ms. Childress’s mother, Dianne Moreeman.

And he was.

“He was like, ‘Oh, can we keep it?’â” Ms. Childress said. “I said, ‘Yeah, this is ours.’â”

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