Foundation’s Emergency Fund Relies on Donations from America’s Dealers

By Debbie Ann Sunga, NADA Chief Speechwriter

A Category 4 hurricane with winds topping 150mph and spanning over 40 miles wide, has hit several states. The destruction includes flipped cars, massive floods and widespread property damage. This isn’t a scene from a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. It has been the reality for hundreds of people caught in the wake of a derecho and Hurricanes Laura and Sally. And for dealership employees coping with the hardship, the NADA Foundation’s Emergency Relief Fund has provided support where it’s needed most.

In early August, a derecho (a windstorm similar to an inland hurricane) left a 700-mile wake of destruction across the Midwest. It lasted several hours, traveling through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin. It has been described as one of the worst weather events in the U.S. to date, leaving more than 800,000 people without power for days.

Then just weeks after the derecho, Hurricane Laura—a deadly Category 4 hurricane—killed more than 70 people and cost an estimated $10 billion in damages to southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas near the Gulf of Mexico. Laura was the strongest hurricane to strike the state of Louisiana since 1856. And in September, Hurricane Sally drowned parts of Alabama and Florida with what was equivalent to four months of rain in just four hours, adding to the devastation of the 2020 hurricane season.

Mark Boniol, owner of Mark Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Lake Charles, La., was one of the many business owners coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Laura—and he’s no stranger to violent storms and the rebuilding efforts that come after them.

“This is the third major hurricane we’ve had in the area but this one was the worst,” said Boniol. “The power grid was out for four weeks, people’s homes were destroyed, and I saw 100% destruction throughout certain areas.”

Boniol described what it was like going back into his dealership after the hurricane subsided around 3pm, to find his office one of the hardest hit areas in the building. He described the damage on the property as four times worse than previous storms, likening it to a war zone. But Boniol’s focus was on his employees rather than the structural damage.

“It’s been hardest for my employees who are hourly and work paycheck to paycheck. The emergency relief that we received [from the NADA Foundation] is much welcomed,” he said.

As for getting back to normal, that takes time. “The recovery is not immediate,” Boniol said. “People sometimes think a hurricane hits and a few weeks later we’re ok. No, this will take at least 6-12 months of recovery. It’s very important to keep the funds full in things like the ERF.”

The NADA Foundation’s Emergency Relief Fund was established in 1992 to provide aid to auto and truck dealership employees impacted by natural disasters. The Fund has distributed over $8 million to more than 11,000 families to date. As these weather patterns occur more frequently and ferociously throughout the country, the ERF serves as a critical resource during times of need. In the past few months, nearly $200,000 in relief has been distributed to more than 200 dealership employees affected by this year’s storms and wildfires. This includes rebuilding efforts in Alabama, Iowa, Louisiana, Oregon, and Texas; a portion of funds have also helped those coping with the devastating wildfires in California and Washington State. Franchised dealers in the west coast have also been quick to jump into action and provide goods, supplies and monetary donations to their communities in the wake of the devastating fires.

Despite the heavy toll on communities like southwest Louisiana, Boniol and his employees have worked hard to get back up and running. In fact, his dealership was the first in town to re-open. “We’re here to serve our customers no matter what—even after a hurricane,” he said.

Many other dealerships are in the same process of rebuilding after these most recent natural disasters. And for dealership families everywhere, the hard work continues.

Learn more about the ERF or make a donation to help dealership employees in need in the future.

Posted by NADA

National Automobile Dealers Association