Volunteers at the SHIFT workshop in north Sioux Falls don’t just fix vehicles, they try to change lives.
SHIFT Garage is a non-profit, volunteer-based vehicle repair shop at 3632 N. Casco Ave. that charges low-income customers for replacements and repairs at cost. They also accept donated vehicles, repair them and sell them cheaply to families.
While the nonprofit organization began in Rapid City about a decade ago, founder and director Joe Smith expanded to a second location in Sioux Falls late last year.
The goal is to help people get their vehicles running so they can get back to their lives with ease, he said. Overall, such a simple solution can have an impact on generational poverty, he added.
“One car that breaks down kills your whole system when you’re living paycheck to paycheck,” Smith said. “You have to make a decision about funding and sign your life to just drive to work.”
Detection:Looking for a cheap car in Sioux Falls? They’re hard to come by. Here’s why
While there are many nonprofit organizations involved in food and shelter in the Sioux Falls area, more attention needs to be paid to reliable transportation, he added.
Other Sioux Falls nonprofits that address transportation issues include Sioux Empire Wheels to Work, which brings together single-parent families with donated and repaired vehicles, and Project CAR, which offers free car rides.
“Without a car, they can’t buy groceries, go to work, or take their kids to daycare,” Smith said. “And some solutions like Lyft or Uber are more expensive; Sioux Falls public transportation can be unreliable; and your friends will only be picking up the phone for a few weeks.”
Inflation, car shortage increases demand
After opening the store in October 2021, Smith says the need for affordable auto repair services is greater than ever. Inflation and the rising cost of used vehicles over the last year or so have only exacerbated the need.
Smith said he sees “diffier” cars coming in for repairs than he’s seen in Rapid City years before.
“When people got their tax returns last year, they needed them to survive and kept driving their old cars instead of saving them to buy a newer vehicle,” Smith said. “However, they haven’t performed any maintenance on this vehicle, so when cars come to me, they have not just one problem, they have four other problems.”
The Rapid City location repairs approximately 150 vehicles and sells between 25 and 30 donated program vehicles each year. In Rapid City alone, where the nonprofit has more volunteers and doubles the hours worked, demand is so high that customers have had to wait two months to fit into the schedule.
In the last few months of 2021 alone, after opening, SHIFT repaired 17 vehicles in Sioux Falls.
Teaching car maintenance, budgeting lessons for clients
Chris Erickson, director of SHIFT West in Rapid City, used to work as a mechanic before volunteering at SHIFT and taking on the role of director when Smith moved his family to Sioux Falls last year.
“We want one-time customers at SHIFT,” Erickson said.
This philosophy means not only doing repairs on vehicles, but also holding training and budgeting courses for customers. There are currently classes in Rapid City and Smith plans to begin classes in Sioux Falls later this year.
“When we fix these cars, we’re putting a band-aid on a deeper problem,” Smith said. “The car will help for a while, but they won’t be driving that in five years. If the education can last, that will help people in the long term.”
Most of the issues addressed by SHIFT are avoidable. Erickson said they take the time to discuss basic car maintenance with customers, how to listen for problems and prevent problems so they can extend the life of their vehicles.
“The Rapid City people we serve don’t get much education when it comes to mechanical issues,” Chris said. “They don’t teach it in schools and with mechanics being so busy they don’t have time to tell you what to look for. It’s more transactional in these stores.”
Smooth cars make a smooth community
Getting people back in their cars not only helps them but also the community of Sioux Falls, Erickson said.
“Rather than having a vehicle that sits in the driveway for five years, people can donate it and have it fixed here,” Erickson said. “Our customers then take that car and make money at jobs, they go grocery shopping, and they’re less dependent on other nonprofits because they can pay rent and groceries instead of paying for a car repair.”
Smith is quick to point out that SHIFT doesn’t compete with any other mechanic or shop in Sioux Falls, adding that he makes many recommendations on issues his volunteers “shouldn’t mess with.” Volunteers are not certified mechanics, they are simply people who want to contribute their time and skills to a cause.
He plans to do more in Sioux Falls soon to meet the growing need in the area and is looking for more volunteers and people to donate vehicles.
“To really improve demand in Sioux Falls, we need to scale up more than we have been doing,” Smith said.
How to get involved, apply for the repair
To qualify for SHIFT auto repair, prospective customers must fill out an application online stating they need the cost-effective repair. While a panel reviews all applications, the program focuses on supporting single parents or low-income families.
Those interested in donating a vehicle can contact SHIFT online. The garage accepts vehicle donations and can issue a tax-deductible receipt. Monetary donations can also be made online.
Volunteers are also welcome to join the team. Those interested can apply online.