Beth Douglas was antsy. She had been called into the McDonald's where she worked, near Underwood-Memorial Hospital in Woodbury, and she was miles away at a body shop she didn't know.
Her friend Pat Colna, owner of the nursery school Douglas' children have attended for years, had agreed to give her a lift. But first, Colna said she had some business at the shop.
"There was all this commotion and my baby [2-year-old Xavier] was crying a bit in the backseat. I didn't know what to think," Douglas said of the scene last week.
Then a few of the guys at the shop parted to reveal a beige 1999 Toyota Camry with a red bow on top.
The Camry was Douglas' new car.
Boggs Auto Collision Rebuilders rehabbed the vehicle - an insurance "total" from an accident - and through the intercession of Colna gave it to the shocked Sewell resident, a single mother of three boys who for six years had taken public transportation to and from the Tra-cee Nursery School, a short hike from her work.
"A car is freedom," Colna said. "And I could think of no better person, someone who needed the freedom, than Beth."
Jim and Jason Boggs, father and son owners of the body shop, were still tweaking the Camry on Wednesday after Douglas' shift at McDonald's.
In 1999, the Boggses' paint contractor, Acoat, started a nationwide Benevolence Program with its body-shop customers to help them rehab cars to be given to worthy recipients as holiday gifts. Acoat provided paint, and the Boggses got other suppliers to donate items as well.
For three weeks, the Boggses' employees toiled on their own time to take the dings and dents out of the Camry and replace some of its inner workings, including the battery, hoses, and belts. The Cettei & Connell insurance agency in Woodbury gave Douglas a year of insurance and some gas cards.
This was the eighth time the shop had done a Christmas-season rehab, but this one was special, said Jason Boggs, who learned about Douglas in a letter from Colna.
"I had known about this for several years from reading about it in the local paper, so I thought I would write the shop a note," Colna said. "I did it back in October and then didn't hear anything, so I forgot about it."
The letter described Douglas' commute by bus from her home near Gloucester County College to downtown Woodbury for work and care for the boys. The older ones, ages 11 and 8, go to the nearby YMCA when not in school.
"She does this no matter what the weather; she comes in snow, rain, etc., and never complains," Colna wrote. Jason Boggs, the younger of the owners, said it was a no-brainer who would get the car after that.
Douglas, who will be 36 on New Year's Eve, was living in a shelter in Woodbury six years ago when she got the McDonald's job, and within a year, she was in her own home. But she never was able to save enough money for a car and its expenses, such as insurance.
"I kept on working and just hoping things would happen, and now this did," Douglas said.
The older boys have wanted to play sandlot football and join the Boy Scouts, but she was unable to get them to practices and meetings.
"Now, they will have more opportunities. It really is freedom," she said.
Douglas said that her adoptive mother - who lived in East Orange, where Douglas grew up - died in September, which has made this holiday season a little more difficult. Douglas was adopted at age 3, "and life wasn't so easy growing up," but her mother was her rock, she said.
When Colna took too long at the body shop and Douglas saw people hustling around, she thought it was because they might be donating some toys for the boys, she said. But a car?
"Who would have thought that? I still can't believe it," she said, a week after the presentation. She said she cries just thinking of their generosity.
Coincidentally, the day after Douglas got the car, Xavier woke up with a high fever and a bad cough.
"I was able to drive him to the emergency room at Underwood," she said. It turned out the toddler had pneumonia.