Lou Mak was all smiles Thursday afternoon as he met a host of strangers.
Wendy Mak adjusts her brother Lou's hat at the San Mateo Adult School.
While those who approached him and shook his hand, some with T-shirts or beanies with a company logo, Mak smiled and kept saying "Thank You.” He really meant it. He was thankful for these people. As a group, they had recently helped change his life by helping get Mak a van.
Mak, a San Mateo Adult School student, uses a motorized chair to get around. It's quite heavy and requires a very special vehicle. He relies on Redi-Wheels to get around, which keeps him within San Mateo County but often means waiting for long periods of time to be picked up, said his teacher Jay Finkelstein.
To illustrate how difficult it is to get around, Mak's family, who couldn't afford to get an outfitted van that could accommodate the chair, would always bring him home food from restaurants. He couldn't go with them. If he traveled in a non-equipped van, he would often lie down in the back of an SUV and have to leave his chair behind. No longer will that be the case thanks to a group of local Good Samaritans. He got the van just before Christmas.
"I had a lot Santas this year,” he said Thursday during a meeting in front of the adult school with those who made it possible.
It started at school. Finkelstein knew Mak was looking for a van. The student was living between Daly City and Elk Grove, which made the limited transportation options particularly difficult. His sister, Wendy, had tried to trade in her car to get a van but was short of the funds needed to make it work for her brother.
Finkelstein turned to his neighbor Keith Jobe, who had a van from his uncle that wasn't used often. Jobe agreed and the van was donated to the Chasers Parents Club in Napa. Finkelstein and Carl Shellhorn, the Chaser skipper, worked alongside the Recreational Railroad Coalition Historical Society to do mechanical work.
Making it happen from there took a team of people — literally.
Kathy Davis, from the San Mateo AAA office, helped with the paperwork to make sure the transfer was legal. Mak, for example, couldn't have a van. He doesn't have a driver's license. But he could share it with his sister.
John Lam, at Burlingame's Smog All, helped provide needed testing. Dick and Julie McEachron of San Mateo gave financial support.
Ducky's detailed the car, which had spent the better part of three years parked under an oak tree. Tires were provided by Mark Brides, of Burlingame's Bridges tires. A strong battery was offered by Billy Leonor of Interstate Batteries in Burlingame (The guys also brought Mak a bunch of swag Thursday). A number of parts were donated from Buster Thomas at Carquest Auto Parts in Burlingame. Leaky glass is no longer a problem as it was replaced by Performance Auto Glass in Woodside. And Rich Amos at Hillsdale Transmission helped get things running.
"It's a big change,” Mak said about having the car.
The first errand they used the van for was to drop off donated coats in December to the One Warm Coat drive. Mak enjoyed the ability to go to the farmer's market and through the countryside, just to take in the scenery. He is excited for his freedom, but also the opportunity to use the van to help others.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.