Morro Bay resident Malia Neves awarded keys to a 2001 Pontiac Vibe

MORRO BAY — A Morro Bay woman who works with the local senior nutrition program was the 33rd person to receive a free car in the Morro Bay Lions Club’s “Car Give-Away Program.”

Malia Neves, who has lived in Morro Bay for the past 25 years, took the keys to a 2001 Pontiac Vibe at a brief ceremony Saturday, Jun. 19.

“I guess they would call me a local,” joked Neves. She explained that 6-months ago, she started volunteering for the “Meals that Connect” program, which used to be the Meals on Wheels senior nutrition program. After six months, she said, “They asked me if I would work as a site manager, and I said, ‘Sure.’” She was interviewed last February and hired. She’s currently a site manager in training, “until I have my own wheels.”

Currently, Neves works at the Morro Bay Community Center and temporarily in Cambria, Los Osos, and the Anderson Hotel in San Luis Obispo, where they serve over 170 meals every day.

Neves explained that she used to work in the San Simeon-Cambria area and decided on a career change.

“I wanted to do something to give back to the community,” she explained. “I figured seniors needed help, so I started there.”

Malia Neves, center, holds the keys to her 2001 Pontiac Vibe that she was given by the Morro Bay Loins Club through its ‘Car Give-Away Program.’ Also pictured are Lion’s members involved in the program. Photos by Neil Farrell

Lions Club President Chuck Stoll, who helps oversee the program along with Lion Bill Todd, said since the club became involved in 2017, they’ve given away over $100,000 in vehicles to qualifying people who needed transportation.

The program works in conjunction with Sharon O’Leary of the Community Resource Connections, which screens applicants for the program. Todd, who with his son, Mike Todd, started the program in 2014, handles the purchase of vehicles, and they work on them too, fixing anything wrong so that people get a car that runs perfectly. He said the vehicle Neves received was top-notch, despite its age.

“It’s based on a Toyota Matrix,” Todd said of the Pontiac Vibe. It has the same drive train, engine, and frame but with a Pontiac body. He said he and another Lion member, Sean McBride drove to Sacramento to buy it after he found it on Craig’s List. A friend of his who lives near Sacramento went and looked at it first and confirmed it was a good one. 

“It’s a sweet car,” Todd said. “It’s getting harder and harder to find good cars. I combed Craig’s List for a long time.”

Todd shared that O’Reilly’s Auto Parts and Auto Zone donated some $300 in parts, and he and his son Mike went through the Vibe. They even smog-checked it. 

Stoll, who was the Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Citizen of the Year, said one of the criteria for the program is that the person has to give back to the community. 

“One major criteria is exactly what Malia represents,” Stoll said. “She’s exactly who we’re looking for.” He added that the program is getting expensive because prices for used cars have gone up greatly if you can find one. 

“They’re up 25 percent,” Stroll said. “When people donate a car, we give them fair market value as a donation to write off.” 

Through which the program runs, the Lions Foundation is a certified non-profit, tax-exempt organization, and donations, including money, are tax-deductible.

Todd said sometimes they get cars donated that they don’t really want to use, like recently when they got a 2001 BMW station wagon donated. He said they sold it and used the money for the program. 

“BMWs are expensive to repair,” he said. “This [the Vibe] is a Toyota Matrix and easy to repair. That’s why we choose these versus European cars; it costs less to repair them.”

Recipients must pledge to keep up the maintenance and insurance on their cars.

The quarterly car giveaway is just one of several programs the Morro Bay Lions Club, which began in 1945, is currently involved in. They also are major sponsors of the free Monday Night Community Dinners held at the Vet’s Hall.

They sponsor in conjunction with the Food Bank, the monthly free food giveaway, held the third Wednesday of every month from 9:30 to10:30 a.m. at the Vet’s Hall. 

This year, the club awarded seven scholarships to Morro Bay High seniors, and they also support Del Mar Elementary School’s educational needs.

They provide eye exams and glasses for local needy students and adults and annual eye screenings at Del Mar, Baywood, and Monarch Grove schools in Morro Bay and Los Osos. 

They help sponsor the City of Morro Bay’s Annual Free Thanksgiving Dinner at the Community Center, and they sponsor a girls’ softball team through the rec department. They also help with the Christmas visit of Santa Claus.

They volunteered to help with the 2017 and 2019 Amgen Tour of California Bike Race when it came to town and provide financial assistance to the Community Resource Connections. And they’ve also taken part in the City’s annual Fourth of July celebrations.

They have a new program collecting aluminum cans, plastic, and glass bottles from local families and merchants and redeem them for cash to support the club’s programs. That recycling program helped pay for Neves’ car, Todd said.

They also support other service groups, like the Morro Bay Open Space Alliance, Morro Bay in Bloom, the Maritime Museum, Natural History Museum, the Boy Scouts, the Noor Foundation, and the annual Cayucos Lost Sea Memorial Ceremony.

If readers find themselves, for whatever reason, with an extra car, they can donate it to the Lions program by calling Todd’s Garage (805)772-1985. 

If readers need a car or know a worthy person who needs reliable transportation, they should contact the Community Resource Connections at (805)225-1991 or via email at 

Applying for a car entails filling out a form and an interview with organizers. The Lions Club gives away a car every three months.