LUMBERTON — For Deborah Council, the second time was the charm.
Council left empty-handed last year in the United Way of Robeson County’s annual Car Giveaway, but on Thursday, her second straight year as a finalist, she won the big prize — a silver 2014 Nissan Versa sedan from Terry Chapin Nissan.
Council, who works at BB&T on Fayetteville Road, said she has donated an hour of her pay each month to United Way’s Fair Share program for nearly 20 years, including the last seven during which a free car was up for grabs to those who participated.
“I’ve always wanted to give,” Council said. “I didn’t think I’d win.”
About 800 people qualified for this year’s drawing by donating their fair share.
Council selected the car by picking one of five envelopes, each containing the name of car from a different participating dealership. Lumberton Chevrolet, Peterson Toyota, Fair Bluff Ford and Lumberton Honda were the other participants.
Council said she won’t be ditching her Buick Lacrosse just yet, but that she may drive her new Nissan, which starts at a list price about $12,000, more often because of the better gas mileage.
Her first joyride after picking up the Nissan this morning will be a three-hour trip to Havelock to visit her daughter, who has no idea her mother will be pulling up in a new car.
Even though she’s already taken the grand prize, Council said she will continue to participate in the Fair Share program.
Council said all of her donations are earmarked for Southeastern Hospice, a cause she became passionate about since her mother-in-law and stepfather passed away from cancer.
Terry Chapin himself drew Council’s name at his dealership on Oct. 29. Chapin said he was hoping someone he picked would win the car, regardless of what dealership the prize came from.
According to Sandra Oliver, executive director of United Way of Robeson County, organizations in other counties have just one dealership that participate in the giveaway.
“I get to brag about all the good things going on in Robeson County,” she told a crowd of about 50 onlookers before the winner was chosen.
Oliver said the idea to do a car giveaway came about a statewide United Way meeting, when someone mentioned they had a car to donate.
“So we started talking about that and I approached Jerry Johnson, who owned Lumberton Chevrolet at that time … and he said ‘Sandra, I’ll do it but let’s talk to all the car dealers and see if they’ll all do it together.’” The cost of the free car is divided among the participating dealerships.
Oliver said her organization has continued the tradition “because the first three letters in ‘fundraiser’ are F-U-N.”
“It”s a fun thing to do. We ask people to give and we don’t give anything back. When they go into one of these clothing stores and they buy something, they get something to take away with them,” Oliver said. “When they give to United Way, the thing they get is hopefully a good feeling about what they do for this county.”
The Robesonian newspaper has donated more than $10,000 in advertising space to support the event.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-272-6127