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A new ride for Habitat

Geri Hickerson, executive director of Northwoods Habitat for Humanity, and Habitat Board President Judy Reese, far right, celebrate as they receive the keys Tuesday afternoon to a new Toyota Tundra at Chester Berg Toyota. Pictured, from left, are dealership owner Chester Berg; Dejuan Ross, assistant general manager for Toyota Motor Sales in its Chicago office; Hickerson; and Reese. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – The Northwoods Habitat for Humanity was presented with a new Toyota Tundra Tuesday, fulfilling a contest prize won by the nonprofit this summer.

“Thank you so much,” said Geri Hickerson, executive director of Habitat, as she accepted the keys from a Toyota official. “That’s all you can say, thank you. There are no other words to express our gratitude.”

The local Habitat chapter, which serves Beltrami and Clearwater counties, secured the new vehicle through Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good campaign. Through the program, Toyota gave away 100 new vehicles to nonprofits receiving the most votes on a particular day.

Northwoods Habitat for Humanity board members and volunteers pose with their new Toyota Tundra. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Northwoods Habitat for Humanity was one of 3,000 initial applicants and one of 500 finalists. On Aug. 8, it was among five nonprofits vying for one of the vehicles; it received the most online votes on that date, securing the win, thanks in large part to supporters who solicited votes via Facebook.

“It’s amazing what social media can do,” Hickerson said.

Dejuan Ross, assistant general manager for Toyota Motor Sales in its Chicago office, said presentations of the winning vehicles have been staggered but will be finished by the end of the year.

“It’s part of our job that we don’t often get the opportunity to be part of,” he said, adding that vehicle presentations have been enjoyable for Toyota representatives.

“They do all the heavy lifting,” he said of winning nonprofits, “we just present the vehicles.”

The new truck will be used for Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, replacing a 1978 Ford conversion van that is “road-weary,” Hickerson said.

Jim Henn, a Habitat volunteer who works about six hours a week driving the van to pickup donations and deliver purchases, said he is extremely excited to get behind the wheel of the new pickup, a 5.7-liter V8 flex-fuel vehicle.

“We’ve been wondering how we are ever going to be able to replace our van,” Henn said.

As a gesture of Habitat’s appreciation, Hickerson presented Toyota representatives with gifts, including two books: “The Carpenter’s Gift,” a Christmas-themed children’s book written by David Rubel in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, and “The Night Before Christmas in Minnesota.”

She also invited Toyota representatives to tour the ReStore after the presentation so they could see, first hand, the nonprofit they are supporting.

“It’s still unreal to us,” Hickerson said of the new truck. “Aside from our home dedications – there is nothing like turning over the keys to a new home to a family – this is the best thing ever.”