When Connie Tompkins said her daily prayers, they often involved her car.
She didn’t know “angels” from her workplace were hearing her pleas.
A Struthers, Ohio, resident, Tompkins struggled to get to work at Walmo Dry Cleaners in Neshannock Township. Her car, a very used 1995 Mercury Cougar, frequently refused to make the 25-minute commute.
“It was hooked on starting fluid,” Tompkins said, relating how the vehicle that reeked of exhaust fumes had no heat, doors that could only be opened from the outside and windows that didn’t work.
Jamal Soubra, who owns the cleaners along with his wife, Janine, knew of Tompkins’ predicament and sometimes let his employee of about three years borrow a company van. Other days, the Neshannock resident drove her himself as he picked up cleaning from the Towne & Country shop he operates in Poland, Ohio.
“She’d leave here every day with her fingers crossed,” Jamal recalled.
“We wanted to do something for her at Christmas, but we weren’t sure what. She’s worked hard her whole life and takes care of her whole family,” explained Janine Soubra, a chemist with the Mahoning Valley Board of Health in Youngstown. “She actually had a string she would pull to use the wipers.”
The Soubras were approached by Walmo employee Debbie Bauder, who suggested they pool resources and purchase Tompkins a 1998 Chevy Malibu she’d found online.
“She’s just the nicest person ever, but she doesn’t have a lot of money. Not that I do either, but I’m doing a little better,” Bauder explained.
The Soubras agreed and with help from other coworkers got the car fixed up, filled the gas tank and presented it to Tompkins on March 20 along with an envelope of cash for related expenses such as title fees. Bauder’s daughter, Jessica Boyd, provided a large red bow and car seats for Tompkins’ grandchildren.
“It was in pretty good shape, we just fixed it up a bit,” Bauder said. “It works, so I guess it’s a lot better than hers was.”
Jamal Soubra said Tompkins was worried she was getting fired when he told her to step outside. Instead of walking papers, she received car keys.
“She kept riding around the parking lot. I didn’t think she was ever going to come back to work,” Jamal joked.
“They’re my angels. Every day I’d leave here and pray that my car would get me home,” said Tompkins, who was taken by surprise. “I kept saying, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got angels.’ These people really are God-sent. I’m still in shock.”
One of the 10 employees scattered across Soubra’s three locations, which also includes Country Club Dry Cleaning in Ellwood City, Tompkins usually works as a presser but according to her boss, “She’s been in dry cleaning her whole life. She can do every job in back.”
That’s quite a lot of work as the Walmo facility processes all cleaning for the trio of Soubra-owned shops as well as Giant Eagle locations in Butler and Slippery Rock. Jamal noted that the business he’s owned since 2010 is completely green and environmentally, as well as employee, friendly.
“Here at Walmo, we’re more like a family,” Jamal explained. “We value each other and work as a team. If one person isn’t here and or leaves, it’s a detriment to all of us.
“Besides it’s the right thing to do. At the end of day, it’s about giving back and making a difference in people’s lives.”