Cory Schneider first got his late grandmother’s 1997 Ford Crown Victoria years ago, after an accident left him carless. But as the 34-year-old St. Petersburg resident planned a move back to North Carolina, he realized the car didn’t suit his needs anymore.
He decided it was time to pay it forward. So, he took to Reddit to find someone in need.
“1997 Ford Crown Victoria — white — around 100k miles, almost all driven by grandma. Damn good physical appearance for a 24 year old car,” he wrote in a now-deleted post last Monday. “I want to help someone who needs it with a free vehicle ... I know I’m about to get crushed with DMs and I will probably regret making this post, but shoot me a DM if you or someone you know is in need of some help.”
Within a few days, Schneider received about 20 direct messages.
“As you’d suspect, there was a common theme of COVID-19 causing people to lose jobs, and placing challenges on their willingness to get on buses and things like that,” he said.
Schneider made sure to specify in his post that the recipient would be responsible for any costs related to the title transfer and registration. The car had new tires, a new battery and recent suspension work, but he knew whoever ended up with it would need the resources to maintain it.
“Although it was a good car, there are going to be things associated with having a 24-year-old vehicle that just will come up," he said.
Schneider selected Mark Selby, a 31-year-old substitute teacher at Thurgood Marshall Middle School.
The St. Petersburg resident had been nominated by a friend who saw the post. Selby had totaled his car two months ago and had been getting rides to work from his mother, who he lives with as a caretaker.
“When I first got the call, I felt like I was going to cry,” he said. “I have been so stressed out lately.”
Michael Perry, the Reddit user who first nominated Selby, drove him to Schneider’s house in Disston Heights last Wednesday. They stopped to pick out some beer along the way as a thank-you gift for Schneider, who works for a brewing company.
There was a surprise waiting for Selby when he arrived: another Reddit user who had seen the post and left $400 in the glove box.
“A free car isn’t always necessarily free,” said the donor, local entrepreneur Marcel Gruber. “I didn’t know who I was giving it to but I figured if someone is in that dire of a need for a vehicle, then the registration costs might also be cumbersome.”
“When he told me why he was there, it floored me,” Selby said. “It was like that scene in Doctor Strange where he gets punched and his spirit flies out of his body.”
The men were pleasantly surprised to find out that they all lived close to each other, Gruber said.
“We had no idea ...,” Gruber said. “But we ended up being real-life neighbors.”
Schneider said that these days it feels like a lot of what people do on the internet is yell at each other. Giving away the car was a nice change.
“I think local subreddits are a cool way to speak with each other, to get to know each other," he said.
Selby plans to pay it forward one day. He dreams of building an orphanage to help children.
For now, he said the gift was what he needed to lift him up out of a dark time.
“It’s kind of like being in a sailboat but the wind has kept you from getting to shore,” he said. “But then all of the sudden it changes and you’re on your way.”