ELKHART — Denny Thompson, owner of Jim Stone’s Service, Inc., has worked on Terry Fillio’s van several times. So many times — and each time becoming more frequent — he’s worried one day it will leave her stranded.
Last summer Fillio brought her van to be fixed again. And Thompson realized on that day of 100-degree weather that the van’s air conditioner no longer worked and the windows in that van could not be opened.
“At that moment I decided to get her a new vehicle,” he said.
Fillio, a long-time Elkhart resident who is well-known in the community, is a survivor of the 1952 poliomyelitis epidemic who now uses a wheelchair, Thompson said. Fillio went to college and worked several years at the Elkhart County Probation Department. Anyone who grew up in Elkhart knows her, he said.
“She’s a person who tries real hard to overcome her disability,” he said. “And she just needs a little help.”
Thompson is trying to raise a minimum of $14,000 to purchase a 2005 Dodge Grand Canyon Caravan, a converted mobility van, to replace Fillio’s old van.
“This would give her a better quality of life,” he said. “This would help her out.”
The van, along with tax and the title, costs $19,000. Thompson said if he raises $14,000, Fillio offered to give $5,000 that she has saved for emergencies. But he’d prefer she didn’t use her emergency funds.
Although Fillio has nurses who can drive her, the van she currently uses is no longer reliable, often needing repair and lacking essentials.
“The new van is in real good shape, it doesn’t need anything,” Thompson said.
To raise money, Thompson started selling chocolate bars at his business at 225 W. Lexington Ave., and he has been getting a good response, he said. He sells a box every week or two. But selling candy to raise money is a slow process, he said. Still, he wants to be able to give Fillio the van before summer’s warmest temperatures hit again.
Taffy Wuthrich, one of Thompson’s regular customers, stopped at his shop Tuesday afternoon just to buy some candy bars to continue giving for the cause.
“We love these things, and we haven’t seen these for years,” she said. “They don’t know this, but my grandchildren are getting some for Christmas.”
Thompson said Wuthrich has been constantly buying chocolates to help.
Anyone interested in helping can stop at Jim Stone’s Service Inc. to buy a candy bar, or make donations to the Terry Fillio fund at Indiana Community Bank, at 303 S. Third St., Elkhart, or 511 W. Lincoln Ave., Goshen. They must write “Van” on the memo for the funds to go to the cause.
Fillio said she has received help from friends and other local businesses in the past. She is happy to know Thompson is raising money to help her, and she was not surprised to hear of his efforts, nor the community’s support.
“I feel blessed to have someone like Denny, who is seeing for my needs. I appreciate his thoughtfulness,” she said. “Elkhart is a good community for helping those in need.”
Thompson said he hopes to see support from the community as he continues his work to raise money.
“I think it would be a great idea if the Elkhart Community would help out, because this is a local person who needs help and this is the right thing to do.”