The beautiful building, shiny new cars and good deals are just the surface of what I-5 Toyota in Chehalis is all about. Underneath the car business is a closely knit family of employees who are deeply invested in giving back all they can to their community. From donating the use of a car in a parade to helping someone after a house fire, it’s something Heidi Pehl, Dealer Principal at I-5 Toyota, says she feels blessed to be able to do.
“I guess it was the way I was raised,” she says, “If you’re in a good position, it’s important to give back. And it’s a luxury to me. I feel very blessed that I am in a position to do something to give back.”
“Every employee’s job here is to help people,” General Manager Chris Hardesty adds. Whether it’s helping a family pick out the car that fits their needs, or repairing the car they already own, helping people is their business. They also give back every chance they get – as a family – starting with their fellow employees.
Heidi shares that the employees are quick to rally for each other when needed. For example, when one employee’s father died in Pakistan, he needed to get home for the funeral. The I-5 Toyota staff reached into their own pockets to buy him a plane ticket. Another employee’s son’s bike was stolen – again, they pooled their own money and bought him a new bike. Two employees have had house fires over the years, and the other employees came together to help them as well.
But it’s not just sad occasions that bring Toyota’s personnel together. Not too long ago, after an employee bought a new house, the staff got together to give her a nice housewarming gift. When a baby is born, they gift as well. And, recently, they even threw a surprise wedding shower for a sales manager who met his wife (one of their receptionists) while on the job. The team pitched in and gave them a monetary gift for their honeymoon.
“It’s kind of a passion of ours really, the employees get pretty excited about it,” Chris says.
The company is also extremely active in giving back to the community – especially to children and schools. Heidi explains that since she grew up in Chehalis and is a product of the school system, it’s a particular passion for her. Most of the employees are local too, making them vested in the area.
Over the years, the I-5 Auto Group collectively has given much to the community.
For instance, every year Awesome Ford (part of the I-5 Auto Group) gives local schools the chance to be a part of “Drive One For Your School” program. For every test drive, a donation is made by Ford to the schools. Centralia High School, W.F. West High School, Napavine and Mossyrock are just a few of the schools that have benefitted from this fundraiser over the years. The I-5 Auto Group also has scholarships for graduating seniors to help them follow their dreams of continued education.
During the Christmas season, the staff contributes to the local food banks, Salvation Army, church groups and others, often by giving out of their own pockets. “Our employees pay a dollar every Friday to wear jeans,” Heidi explains. “This money is then given back to the community through different charitable organizations.”
I-5 Auto Group knows that giving back is about more than just money. Each year, they have several charitable campaigns, including the Peanut Butter Drive, where community members are encouraged to drop off jars of peanut butter at Awesome Ford in Chehalis.
The Volkswagen of Olympia dealership partners with local schools to provide backpacks full of food to children challenged by hunger in the community.
This month, I-5 Toyota will wrap up its year-long fundraiser for youth organizations – the I-5 Car Giveaway – on October 21 at the Swamp Cup football game, when the winner of this year’s raffle vehicle – a cute and sporty Scion iQ – is announced at half-time. Over the past 11 years, I-5 Toyota has raised more than $400,000 for local youth groups, including sports teams, equestrian teams and clubs such as the Robotics and Forensics clubs for participating schools.
This will be the 11th vehicle donated by I-5 Toyota, and 100 percent of the money from the raffle tickets goes to the selling organization. Tickets are just $10 and can be purchased at school-sponsored events and I-5 Toyota up until the half-time at the Chehalis vs. Centralia High School football team, when the winning ticket will be drawn.
For more information, visit I-5 Toyota’s website or call 360-998-3078 (sales), 360-998-3432 (service).