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Thornhill gives away two cars at Christmas in July celebration

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Two deserving area residents became car owners as part of Thornhill Auto Group's second "Christmas in July" celebration.

Clay Norris of Charleston and Kathy Martin of Henlawson both received cars after their friends dropped off letters nominating them for the event's car giveaway program.

Thornhill marketing director Mike Collins said dealership owner Wally Thornhill came up with the giveaway idea last year.

"The whole idea of it came about from knowing there are people in our community who are in need, who can't afford to buy a car but desperately need transportation," Collins said.

"We set it up to where people could write letters for someone else nominating them to be selected as one of the winners that get one of the vehicles," he said.

A panel of community members reviewed the letters and selected the best candidates.

Collins said he didn't like calling the event a contest or competition, because he was truly about helping someone in need.

He said last year the dealership gave away one car. This year, officials tried to expand the program to two cars.

"Mr. Thornhill and the rest of the group decided to do two because it really was just a blessing to get to see a person who really had a need get something like that," Collins said.

The company opened up the nomination period at the beginning of July and advertised the initiative in their print and radio ads.

Renee Daly heard one of the radio ads on her way to work one morning.

Daly, the Newspapers-in-Education program coordinator for Charleston Newspapers, said she thought Norris would be a good nominee.

Norris, who turns 58 next month, used to drive a truck from his home on Charleston's West Side to the Charleston Newspapers office on Virginia Street, where he works 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift with the company's custodial staff.

But when Norris's truck broke down a couple years ago, he switched to commuting on a bike. However, a thief stole his bike earlier this year. Norris either walked or used a KRT bus ever since.

Despite the setbacks, Daly said Norris always kept a positive attitude at work.

"He's just very friendly and always willing to help anybody," she said. "He's just always in a good mood."

She said he always shows up to work on time, except on snowy days when he comes in an hour early to clear the sidewalks around the office.

But Daly said her heart broke when she asked Norris about his Christmas plans last year. He said his one wish was that he could visit his stepdaughter in Morgantown and mother in Washington., but couldn't because he didn't have a car.

"It was the only time I saw him look sad," Daly wrote in her nomination letter.

While she nominated him earlier this month, Daly didn't tell Norris about until Monday, after she received word he was one of 20 finalists for the Christmas in July car giveaway.

"The whole thing was a surprise to me," Norris said.

He and several co-workers traveled to the Thornhill dealership in Chapmanville Tuesday evening for the giveaway presentation.

When officials announced the winners, they did so by reading their nomination letters first.

Norris, who hadn't asked Daly what she wrote, didn't realize he was a winner until his name was mentioned at the end of the letter.

"It was such a nice letter I had no idea it was me," he said. "As he read off a couple of the things in the letter, I said 'I recognize that work, I do some of that work.' Then they finally said my name and my knees just buckled."

Norris won a 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer in the giveaway.

Martin, who was nominated by her pastor, Ron Chambers of New Covenant Fellowship Church in Logan, received a 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier.

Collins said that, in addition to needing a car to take her daughter for treatment at the Cleveland Clinic, Martin volunteers as a driver for senior citizens.

"She volunteers to take people to hospitals and stuff by using someone's old bus," he said. "There was a small bus she was driving that looked like from the 1970s."

The remaining 18 finalists also won gift cards for food and to make purchases at various local retailers.

In addition to giving Norris and Martin the vehicles, Thornhill Auto Group also paid Norris and Martin's state taxes on the cars. The two did have to obtain an insurance policy first, before being able to drive the car off the lot.

Norris said he visited an insurance agent Wednesday and plans to pick his car up on Friday. He plans to take Daly out for a drive once he gets it.

He said seeing so many people step up to help others through the program was an inspiration.

"It kind of helps me to keep faith, knowing that folks still think about others and are concerned about others -- that just makes me have hope for people," Norris said.

"The way things are today and with everything that's going on, it makes you think sometimes that folks don't care," he said. "But when someone takes a moment to consider a laborer, or someone who's just out there doing the menial tasks ... well, I didn't know that folks paid attention like that.

"It does the heart good, I have to say -- it does the heart good."

Contact writer Jared Hunt at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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