Selena Gilchrist was on the right CTA bus at the right time last fall. As a result, she drove home on Christmas Eve in a 2017 Chevrolet Sonic, a gift from Chevrolet of Homewood.
"Home" for Gilchrist and her five children is a Chicago homeless shelter.
That's where she was headed with her children when she boarded a bus driven by Santino Woods. She asked him for help finding the shelter. It was the only time Woods' and Gilchrist's paths crossed — until Sunday.
In that one encounter Woods was touched by Gilchrist's plight and impressed by the family's character. When he heard about the Homewood Chevy Cares Christmas car giveaway program, he nominated Gilchrist for the free car.
Woods said he had never won anything before. But his nomination was chosen from 420 entries as the winner the third annual car giveaway.
"She deserves it," he said. "You can tell she's trying to do what she can. You can tell the difference from somebody who's just looking for a handout. I was able to do something for somebody who genuinely deserves it. Christmas eve has turned out to be a big day in my life."
He said he was especially impressed with how well-mannered her children were.
Gilchrist said she had never won anything before, either. The first win was a big one. She said the car would make a big difference in her life.
"It's going to help a lot," she said. "Me and my kids have disabilities. I can take my family to their doctor's appointments."
Woods said he was impressed with the energy of the presentation event. Local media and Chicago television stations were there to cover it. Many members of the dealership staff, Gilchrist's relatives and the Chicago Heights Southside Cruisers, local car club that helps raise money for charity through summer car shows, were there to celebrate the occasion and wish Gilchrist and her family well.
During the presentation, Chevrolet of Homewood comptroller Gina Morin announced that the dealership would pay the taxes and fees associated with transferring ownership of the car, would pay for six months of insurance and would provide two years worth of free oil changes.
"Everything they're doing for her, it's a beautiful thing," Woods said.
The dealership's big gift also prompted some smaller acts of generosity. Just before the presentation, a woman from Steger stopped by and gave Gilchrist a gas card.
"I don't know you, but I had to pay it forward," Catrice Collins said. She said she read about Gilchrist's situation and wanted to help.
Dealership General Manager Bob Cuban also presented Gilchrist with a basket of Christmas gifts for her family. He said it was not from the dealership but was brought in by a woman who wanted to remain anonymous and just wanted to help.
"It's not just about a car," he said. "People are doing beautiful things for everybody through Homewood Chevy Cares."
Ja'Mal Green, a community activist and founder of Majostee Allstars, also emphasized the power of the project to encourage generosity.
Green's organization partnered with the dealership to help promote the car giveaway in south and west side neighborhoods of Chicago.
"Do something for somebody else this holiday season. We need more people out there like that," he said, pointing to Woods. "He said, 'I know somebody who really needs this car. Let me submit for her.'"
Majostee Allstars is also providing gifts to other finalists in the program, he said, including rent assistance.
The dealership's Internet Sales Manager Tina Lonkar said nominations like Woods' — seeking the free car for someone else — was a trend this year. Although she didn't have numbers at hand, she said more people than in the past made nominations on behalf of someone else.
Another change this year was the selection process. In the past two years, entries were presented online and were narrowed down by social media voters. The response was so great that it actually became a bit overwhelming, Lonkar said.
This year, the staff at the dealership participated in the selection process, along with owner Steve Phillipos, Green and Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld.
Phillipos said Gilchrist's story was the unanimous choice of the voters.
"It was touching," Lonkar said. "You just got chills when you heard it. Selena was just in the right place at the right time."
"We do believe in miracles here," Phillipos said.
After dealership Customer Relations Manager Darrick Harris lead the group in a rousing bell ringing ceremony, Gilchrist got the keys and fired up her new car.
- New car and new friends make family's Christmas brighter (Dec. 26, 2016)
- Homewood business plays Santa in a big way (Dec. 24, 2015)