PASCO — Not long ago, Angelina Sanchez was feeling hopeless.
Her 3-year-old son had been diagnosed with epilepsy. Both she and her fiance, Trevor Nation, had lost their jobs. The family of six was evicted from their apartment.
And the minivan that someone had given her for Christmas in 2009 -- that was the family's lifeline and even home to Sanchez and Nation -- broke down.
"We haven't had a good hand dealt to us in a long time," she said.
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But then they got a call from the Benton Franklin Community Action Committee in Pasco that someone wanted to offer the family some help for the holidays.
Students in Columbia Basin College's Automotive and Skills USA clubs had decided to donate car repairs to a family in need, and through CAC had chosen to help Sanchez, Nation and their children.
"In a way it was just unbelievable," Sanchez said. "It was a miracle."
The minivan had started having problems several months ago when Sanchez and Nation drove their son to Seattle to get treated for his epilepsy.
They noticed something was wrong, and that they couldn't let their foot off the gas or it would stall -- the fuel pump was going bad.
With their only means of transportation having become unreliable, Nation lost his job for being late too many times. He said he had a second job as a roofer, but the work is scarce once the weather turns cold.
And Sanchez had to leave her job because of her son's medical problems.
With little income, they ended up on the street. Their four children -- ages 8, 7, 3 and 2 -- were taken in by relatives, but Sanchez and Nation had to sleep in the van.
CAC was able to put them in a motel, but they needed transportation to look for work and to take the children to school.
By the time the CBC students stepped in, the van not only needed a fuel pump, but two new tires, a front axle, a back windshield and other repairs.
The students pounded the pavement and convinced local businesses to donate most of the parts needed for the repairs. They had the van road-ready in less than a week.
Sanchez and Nation picked up their van Wednesday, commenting that it looked better than it had before.
The family also is staying in a motel through a voucher provided by CAC, and has a $250 gift card for Walmart and a box of toys for the children.
The money and toys were donated by CBC students, staff and instructors.
And their little boy is doing well on medication that controls his epilepsy, Sanchez said.
Robert Garcia, president of the CBC Automotive Club and a second-year student in the college's auto mechanics program, said as a father of nine, the struggles of the Sanchez-Nation family had touched him.
"Growing up here in the Tri-Cities, our family had our share of Christmases that we were just getting by," he said. "It hits home."
He said he tries to teach his own children the value of community service.
"It's been an awesome ride," he said of the minivan repair project. "To give back where you can is a blessing."
The family's struggles aren't quite over. Sanchez said previous criminal history has been a stumbling block as they have tried to pull their lives together.
But Wednesday, she was thankful for what the CBC automotive students had done for them.
"You guys just gave my family a Christmas we would never have been able to give them," she said.