From his warm, dry living room in Bowie, Gordon Harvey watched the scenes of devastation on television and wondered if there was anything he could do for the victims of November's West Virginia floods.
That's when the idea came to him, he said.
"I knew there was a great need for transportation, so I thought, 'Why not collect cars?' Knowing that a tax break is a very powerful incentive, I knew it would work," he said.
Harvey, 46, pitched the idea to his pastor, William Wyatt, at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church. Wyatt agreed to accept donated automobiles and turn them over to a church in Parsons, W.Va., to be distributed to flood victims.
First one (Harvey's), then six (from congregation members) trickled in. But after an article ran in the local newspaper, cars poured in from area residents. On Christmas Eve, Harvey arranged to pick up 22 cars, and 48 more were dropped off on Tuesday.
In a matter of one month, Harvey collected 92 cars. Suddenly the church grounds resembled a used car lot.
"They're in excellent shape," for the most part, he said of the cars. Among the cars donated, he said, were a couple of Cadillacs, several station wagons and a 1979 Ford Granada with only 40,000 miles on the odometer.
"There certainly was a motivation of a tax break, but there was also another motivation. I think people really wanted to help," said Harvey, a U.S. Department of Energy employe.
John P. Theofield Sr., 80, of Silver Spring, who donated his 1966 Ford Fairlane station wagon, agrees: "I just gave it because I didn't have any more use for it and I wanted to help."
Theofield said he even put a new muffler on the car and filled it with gas. Not long ago, a neighbor offered $500 for it but he did not sell. "By God, those people need help. I was only too glad to give it away," he said.
The Rev. Meade Gutshall said his First United Methodist Church in Parsons is distributing the cars as fast as it gets them. "It was one of the greatest needs we had, because people have to have transportation. Well over 100 cars were lost in the flood," he said.
The Parsons area was one of the hardest hit by the flooding, which left at least 34 persons dead, scores injured and millions of dollars in property damage. In all, 29 of West Virginia 55 counties were declared disaster areas.
Now that Harvey has collected the cars, he has just one problem: getting them to Parsons. Some have been delivered by volunteers, but he is hoping a car dealership or a company will donate the use of a car carrier.