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Surprise! Cedar Rapids Family Wins Free Car Just in Time for Christmas

Businesses and charities in Marion, Cedar Rapids and throughout Linn County united to surprise a lucky family with a car through a new Miles for Smiles program.

The Krantz family arrived at the parking lot behind KGAN on Thursday evening thinking they were going to hand out gifts, but they had been duped.

Reality was more like showing up at the Price is Right game show. They came on down, and got a shiny, new car, which they got to drive home. Well, new to them.

"I didn't know what to think," said Darin Krantz, dad of the family from Cedar Rapids. "I thought he was joking."

The Krantz family was selected by the Salvation Army to receive a free Chrysler Town and Country as part of the first ever Miles for Smiles giveaway coordinated by a group of business and charity partners. 75 or so people in the parking lot came to witness the surprise on the mild December evening.

The family was down on its luck, with dad Darin having lost his job and recovering from neck surgery. The girls, Kendra and Jesse, both 8, participate in Salvation Army programs and mom Chandra has volunteered on several occasions, which is likely why it wasn’t so strange being asked to volunteer to give to others in the holiday season.

But, this time it was their turn.

"We were surprised," Darin said. "We have been struggling."

Darin Krantz is planning to go back to school in January at Kirkwood Community College, and the car will be crucial to him and the family.

Lt. Kristina Sjogren, with the Salvation Army, said the goal of the gift is to help people "get out of the cycle" and regain the ability to support themselves.

"It's a blessing being able to give back," said Sjogren, who also runs Pathways of Hope.

The car was donated by McGrath Auto Group, fixed up by Marion Tire with parts from Barron Motor Supply and Complete Automotive Center Point. It was stocked with groceries and filled with gas by Cedar Rapids and Marion Hy-Vee.

“When you work with the right people, it’s easy,” said Troy Benham, of Marion Tire and Mount Vernon Road Tire.

The idea came to Benham one night and he pulled together the group of partners. He hopes this giveaway to be the first of many.

Why do it?

"Its the right thing to do," Benham said. "You think about it this time of year, but the truth is the need is always there."

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