Jessi Faue was buying her daughters gummy bears at a gas station earlier this year when the cashier said, “Is that your car? It’s smoking.”
As flames several feet high followed the smoke, Jessi’s Army veteran instincts kicked in. She raced out of the gas station to her 2007 GMC Acadia. Two of her three daughters—Emma, 9, and Adler, 3—were buckled in car seats in the back. (Her middle daughter, Lucy, 6, was at her grandparents.) Jessi heard a man yell to her to stay out of the car, that it was too dangerous.
“I can’t! My daughters are in there,” she yelled back.
“Get unbuckled and go!” she said to Emma as she took care of Adler. After making sure both girls were safe in the store, she asked for a fire extinguisher from the station staff and did her best to put the fire out. But it was too strong.
“I literally just stood there watching my car go up in flames,” she said.
As a single mother, working two jobs, and the sole financial support for her girls, losing the car was a shock. She always kept up with maintenance and there was no indication anything had been wrong. An insurance investigation determined the cause was an engine fire.
The commute from Jessi’s home in Minnetonka, Minnesota, to her job is nearly 30 minutes, one way, and the vehicle fire occurred at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. When considering a replacement vehicle, she would need something big enough to install three car seats in the back, but with low insurance rates. Jessi bought a 20-year-old Crown Victoria. It was in fairly good condition for a car that age, but she worries about the reliability and making it through a Minnesota winter where temperatures get below zero.
Recently, Jessi found out she was selected as one of six families to receive a vehicle donation as part of U.S. Bank’s Driven to Serve program in partnership with Operation Homefront.
“I’m going to tear up a little bit,” she said when asked about the donation. “It just really provides a sense of relief to know that I’ll have a reliable mode of transportation to get to work, get the kids where they need to go, and just have that financial burden taken away. There was that worry about what if my car breaks down? I don’t have a fall back option. It offers more of a safety net. It’s incredibly impactful.”
Jessi was very surprised that she was considered to receive this generous donation. She describes herself as “unlucky” but every time her life has thrown a challenge her way, she has done her best to take it on. Jessi had a rough childhood, she and her sister were removed from her mentally ill mother’s care and put in foster homes or placed with family. In 2002 she enlisted in the Army. She wanted to defend her country and was also seeking a stable career.
She expected to be in the military for 20 years, but she was forced to medically retire after just four. First, she broke a hip during a training exercise. Then, during her deployment in Iraq in 2005, she was part of a convoy that hit an IED. She was in a vehicle several back from the actual explosion, but the impact broke her hip again and injured her back.
Jessi continues to give back to others though. She currently serves as a nurse in the VA healthcare system working to reduce veteran suicides.