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Free health care, almost-free cars -- amazing heroes

  • Story Highlights
  • There is some good news in this bad economy -- thanks to big hearts
  • Arkansas doctor and wife provide free health care to those in need
  • A Vermont man gives single moms inexpensive cars to help them get jobs
  • Dale Dunning has served 65,000 bowls of soup to the hungry in last decade
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Oprah

(OPRAH.com) -- Everyday heroes don't always make headlines. Some aren't strong or brave, but these men and step up when times are tough.

Through his Good News Garage, Colston helps provide cars to single moms like Dylan.

Since 1996, Hal Colston has helped 3,500 people who were just one car repair bill away from disaster.

Along with People magazine, Oprah Winfrey is celebrating random acts of kindness and saluting those who take the time to help neighbors, strangers and single moms.

In Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Dr. Mehmet Oz meets one couple who's doing just that.

When their small, working-class town was hit hard by the country's economic crisis, Dr. Dan Bell and his wife, Suzie, made it their mission to make sure everyone in their community had access to free healthcare. Soon after, they started the ECHO Health Clinic.

"We were looking at how you really live your faith," Dr. Bell says. "We're at the age where you're looking at, 'Are you doing all you can do with your life and finishing strong?'" Oprah.com: How you can help those in need

Twice a month, Dr. Bell, Suzie and a staff of 250 dedicated volunteers transform a church gymnasium into a full-service medical center. At ECHO Health Clinic, patients have access to private exam rooms, a makeshift pharmacy, free meals and a triage area, which offers immediate care to those in need.

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"From medical care and counseling to serving up a hot meal, everyone is made to feel at home," Dr. Oz says. "There's sort of a unity of spirit that I feel when I'm here. And, you know, it's not high tech, but it's high touch."

Jeff, one of 46 million Americans without health insurance, tells Dr. Oz he wouldn't be able to afford his diabetes and neuropathy medications without access to ECHO.

"If this clinic wasn't here, what would you do?" Dr. Oz asks.

"Probably fall through the cracks," Jeff says.

Many may consider Dr. Bell and Suzie heroes, but the couple say their community deserves all the credit.

"We're only about 2,000 [people]. We don't even have a stoplight, but yet, we have a place that people can come and get care," Dr. Bell says. "To me, that's heroic."

Suzie says something magical happens when a community comes together. "We sit down, we eat, we break bread together," she says. "We are able to just commune and connect as human beings."

Wheels to the rescue

The next time you see a stalled car on the side of the road, take a moment to consider the person who had to leave it behind.

"We see the broken-down cars on the highway when we're driving, and [think], 'Oh God, it's going to hold up traffic,'" Oprah says. "But that is somebody's life."

Without a way to get to work, these drivers run the risk of losing their jobs and falling farther behind financially. This is where Hal Colston steps in.

In 1996, Hal founded the Good News Garage in Burlington, Vermont, to help men and women with car troubles. "In so many ways, people are just a repair bill away from disaster. The car dies, they lose their job, and they just spiral out of control," he says. "I wanted to do something about this."

At the Good News Garage, the motto is "donate a car, change a life," and since 1996, Hal and his team have changed the lives of more than 3,500 people. "It's a win-win situation. The donor gets a tax write-off from donating," he says. "And the recipient gets a car that they now can afford."

Before donated cars go back on the road, a staff of mechanics assesses the vehicles and makes repairs. Then, they're sold at a reduced rate to people in need -- 80 percent of which are single moms.

Thanks to Hal's community garage, Dylan, a single mom who says she needs a car to go to job interviews and pick up her daughter from school, pays just $134 for a reconditioned sedan. "I'm so excited, I have to hug you," she says. "You guys are just amazing."

Hal says a car can transform a person's life almost instantly. "They can get connected with the community." Oprah.com: Meet the foreclosure angel!

How does he decide who gets a car? Hal says his team considers many factors before handing over the keys. "We have a priority list. We look at size of the family," he says. "[We ask]: 'Are they near public transportation? Are they at work? Do they need to get to a job?'" Hal says there are usually about 50 people waiting to get a vehicle from Good News Garage.

Every recipient must pay a little something for his or her car, but Hal says the amount depends on the person's financial situation. The "reach-up program" asks a person to pay a few hundred dollars for car repairs, taxes and the cost of getting it on the road. If you're in the "jump-start program," you'll pay no more than half the book value of the vehicle.

When Rick Hendrick, an automotive dealer from Charlotte, North Carolina, heard about Hal's heroic deeds at the Good News Garage, he contacted Oprah Show producers and offered to help.

"HendrickCars.com wants to pitch in," he says. To help a few families get back on the road, Rick donates ten 2008 Chevy Impalas! "They all get 29 miles to the gallon. They've got 100,000-mile warranties. They've all been serviced," he says. "They're certified, so there's no maintenance."

In addition to the ten cars, Rick and his team want to buy gas for each car...for one year. "Hal, you've done an amazing job," Rick says. "You're an inspiration to all of us. Just keep up the good work."

Food and warmth

If you don't have the means to donate money or a car, a small gesture may make a big difference to those facing tough economic times. As Dale Dunning, a woman from Lewes, Delaware, can attest, a hot cup of soup helps warm hearts.

Armed with a slow cooker and ladle, Dale, the founder of Jusst Sooup Ministry, dishes up more than 900 quarts of free soup each week.

In the past 11 years, Dale says she's handed out more than 65,000 bowls of soup to hungry members of the community.

Von "Dallas" Gigrich, an everyday hero from Lake Forest Park, Washington, is warming hearts in his own way.

Dallas runs a company that removes old oil tanks from homes, and one day, he and his wife, Randi, thought of a way to give their business a higher purpose. They decided to donate the leftover oil in the tanks to families who couldn't afford to heat their homes.

This idea evolved into HEAT, a nonprofit organization that Dallas says he funds out of his salary. Thanks to HEAT, more than 200 homes stay warm every winter.

From The Oprah Winfrey Show: An Oprah/People Magazine Exclusive 2009

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TM & © 2009 Harpo Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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