Wheels4Hope Brownfields Project: Recycling vehicles on a recycled property brings hope to North Carolinians

Wheels4Hope Raleigh Location
Monday, August 10, 2020 - 12:30pm

The state’s Brownfields Program has helped to turn a formerly contaminated and abandoned warehouse space into a safe and healthy property, enabling a Raleigh-based non-profit to continue and expand its mission of providing low-cost cars for qualifying people who otherwise may not be able to afford one.

Wheels4Hope is a car donation program that provides low-cost cars for people in the area who lack reliable transportation. The organization began at West Raleigh Presbyterian Church in 2000 when two members, John Weistart and Chris Simes, saw a need for reliable transportation in their community. For many people, a reliable car is crucial for maintaining a job, pursuing an education and fulfilling family obligations, but options for economically challenged citizens to buy a car are limited.

“In fact, most of what we take for granted as normal family life requires a car. It is only when our car goes in the shop that we taste what some families face daily – a sense of isolation and limitation,” said Simes.

Recognizing this need, Weistart and Simes worked with their congregation to create a mission group within the church to open up an all-volunteer garage. On May 22, 2000, Wheels4Hope officially filed papers to become a fully qualified, non-profit organization.

Nineteen years after its establishment, Wheels4Hope now has two locations serving both the Triangle and Triad regions of North Carolina. When the Raleigh location lost its lease in 2019, the organization sought a new home.

It found a new home at the former Austin Foods brownfields site in Cary.

Austin Foods operated on this site to store equipment from 1980 to early 1990s. Prior to that, portions of the site not used by Austin Foods had been occupied by a pesticide formulation and distribution business from the 1940s through the 1960s, which resulted in contamination in the property’s soil and groundwater. Additionally, another part of the property not used by Austin Foods housed Cary Barrel & Drum from 1951 through the mid-1970s, which was used to consolidate and store steel drums for resale. Mishandling of residue within these drums resulted in a wide range of contamination on the site.

The Brownfields Program in the Division of Waste Management enables abandoned or underused properties with environmental contamination to be redeveloped and put back into use. Developers working on brownfields sites must perform actions deemed essential by the state to make the properties safe for the intended reuse.

The Brownfields Agreement for this site incorporated a risk-based remedy, which included contamination testing, decontamination measures and instituting land-use restrictions for the property. These measures help to ensure a safe and healthy future for all those who visit or work at the site.

At approximately two acres in size, the Austin Foods site is larger than Wheels4Hope’s previous location. The property is comprised of a warehouse building and an office building, which have enabled Wheels4Hope to expand its auto shop operations.

“We can touch more lives and help more people with the extra space we have,” said La’Shawn Boykin, the Triangle Hub Manager at Wheels4Hope.

Hannah Anglin