When Maddy Stoddard won a car at the Columbia Falls High School graduation party early Sunday morning, she knew she wasn’t keeping it.
Even before she turned the key that unlocked the door of the 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee, Stoddard knew she wanted to give the car to someone who truly needed it.
Steven Ciraolo had been wanting a car for some time, but didn’t think he would be getting one any time soon. Ciraolo, known for making the 11-mile trip from his home in Hungry Horse to Columbia Falls High School for sporting practices and other events, was content with making the trip by foot or bicycle or getting occasional rides from friends and family.
When Stoddard won the car, she knew exactly who was getting it.
“We had taken drivers’ ed together and I knew it was really important for him to have the freedom to be able to drive his own car so he could get to a job or to school. I just looked for Steven and told him ‘Congratulations, this is your new car.’ It was amazing to be able to do that for him,” Stoddard said. “I knew it was what God wanted me to do. I knew I should give the car to someone in need.”
According to Stoddard, Ciraolo doesn’t usually show much emotion, but he was “grinning from ear to ear” when she handed him the keys.
Stoddard was one of 10 students whose names were chosen at random for a chance to pick a key and see if it would unlock the door of the car. As the seventh person picked, she did not hold out much hope of winning.
“By the time they got to me, I didn’t have many keys to choose from. I decided the first key I grabbed was not the right one, so picked the key at the bottom of the bag. I thought it looked like the fakest key ever and that it couldn’t possibly be the right one. I guess I was wrong,” she said. “When I tried the key and I could feel it was the right one, I was in shock. I opened the door and everyone was freaking out.”
When Stoddard announced to the crowd of her fellow students that she wanted to give the car away, the group began chanting Steven’s name.
“I was really a cool moment with everyone trying to be nice to me. It was pretty amazing. I was just hugging everyone. It was fun. Weird, but fun,” Ciraolo said. “This means a lot to me. I’m amazed and surprised by the sense of community I’ve gotten throughout high school, especially these last few days.”
The 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee was donated by Don K Motors in Whitefish and has roughly 190,000 miles on it, but Ciraolo describes it as being a “nice, very clean car that runs great.”