Monday, November 12 , 2018, 5:57 pm | Fair 65º


Older Car Becomes New Wheels for Veteran

Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation helped bring car donor and recipient together

Cindy Loustalot donated her Toyota Tercel to Joseph Swearngin.
Cindy Loustalot donated her Toyota Tercel to Joseph Swearngin. (Courtesy photo)

In American society today, acknowledging veterans for their dedication to and sacrifice for our country often begins and ends with briefly uttering the cursory phrase, "Thank you for your service,” or attending celebrations to honor the military.

While these gestures are appreciated by men and women in uniform, there can be more meaningful ways to make a difference in the daily life of a vet.

“Too often we think holding a parade or shaking a veteran's hand is the extent of our duty to them. But if we really want to honor veterans, we should do something more substantive," said Justin Constantine, writing for

"What you do for a veteran is often more important than what you say,” Constantine said.

It was this philosophy that compelled Cindy Loustalot, an office manager at the Santa Barbara accounting firm Macfarlane, Faletti & Co., to find a new way to make a charitable contribution that would make a significant difference in the life of a vet.

When Loustalot recently decided it was the right time for one more “new car” in her life, she wanted to make sure her beloved and well-maintained Toyota Tercel, with 114,000 original miles, went to a local, deserving person who had served in the military.

She reached out to her friend Paula Michal, who has two combat veteran sons and serves as the VETNET Advisory Council member at the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation (PCVF).

Loustalot met with Hazel Blankenship, the founding co-director of PCVF, and in less than a week, she was connected to Navy submarine veteran Joseph Swearngin. PCVF assisted her in reaching out to him and arranged a face-to-face meeting.

There, she handed him the registration paperwork and two sets of keys to her old vehicle, allowing him to drive off with the car, and new-found freedom.

Loustalot’s gesture is making an immediate, positive impact on Swearngin’s life, since he was lacking a source of reliable transportation to get to and from school and work.

“I’m so glad Paula shared her firsthand knowledge of PCVF’s mission and the wonderful support her sons and other vets have received through their affiliation with this organization," Loustalot said.

"I love that Hazel connected me right to Joe, allowing me to direct my in-kind donation to a real and deserving recipient I was able to meet in person and actually forge a relationship," she said.

"Providing Joe wheels with no strings attached was easy, fun and a fulfilling way to make life better for someone that has given much for our country,” Loustalot said.

Swearngin, who is from a small town in Missouri, served in the U.S. Navy for five years directly out of high school. Later, he attended community college in San Diego.

He earned his bachelor of science degree in physics at the College of Creative Studies at UCSB and his masters in physics at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. He is currently working on his Ph.D. in physics at UCSB.

Swearngin is an adjunct professor at SBCC and mentors veteran students at both UCSB and SBCC.

He was riding the bus to travel between the two campuses — which are more than 10 miles apart — as well as to his part-time job at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

“I’m usually in the business of helping students and other vets, so it’s a nice change to be on the receiving end when it comes to getting assistance," Swearngin said.

"I intend on making good use of Cindy’s car and hope to use it for many miles to come. I’m really grateful to her and the great people at PCVF,” he said.

Those interested in making a cash donation to the PCFVF can visit

To learn more about making an in-kind donation, call 259-4394 or e-mail [email protected]

For more about Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation, visit or call 259-4394.

— Sarah Ettman for Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation.


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