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JEFFERSON PARK : Safety Takes a Seat at Muffler Shops

June 27, 1993|ERIN J. AUBRY

After losing her job as a legal secretary, being evicted, having most of her possessions stolen and winding up on public assistance after her unemployment benefits ran out, Eula Jayaratne said she figured her luck was due for a change.

Two weeks ago, it did.

Jayaratne, who is expecting her first baby and is unable to afford a safety car seat, made a few phone calls and landed a free seat through Project Safe Baby, a car-seat loaner program sponsored by Midas Mufflers. In a ceremony last week at the Crenshaw Boulevard Midas shop, the 39-year-old Jayaratne received her seat and, she says, some peace of mind.

"Midas was very responsive to the urgency of my situation," said Jayaratne, a Hyde Park resident whose baby is due any day. "My doctor told me I had to have a car seat in order to leave the hospital. Midas hopped right on it."

Since May, Midas Mufflers, in conjunction with car-seat manufacturer Century Products Co., has helped parents acquire safety car seats at low cost or free through Project Safe Baby. Parents--or anyone wanting a seat--can purchase a seat at a Midas outlet for its wholesale cost of $42, a substantial savings on its $70 to $100 retail price. After the seat is no longer needed, it can be returned for a $42 credit toward any Midas service.

But Crenshaw Midas owner Steven Baer said an exception was made for Jayaratne, whose situation didn't allow her to purchase the seat even at the reduced price. "All we ask is that when she's finished with it, to pass it on to someone else who needs it," he said.

Project spokesman Deane Leavenworth said Midas hopes to help curb infant deaths and injuries stemming from unsafe seating of infants and children.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 70% of the 650 children 4 and younger who are killed annually in traffic accidents nationwide would not have died if they had been in the proper seats.

Midas district manager Robert Moschorak said Project Safe Baby affords shop owners the chance to help the communities they serve. "In big business, we tend to lose sight of the big picture," he said. "Something like this--a program, not just a promotion--is immensely gratifying. We've had some shops make more runs for car seats than for auto parts."

Heading home with her new car seat, Jayaratne promised to be back, albeit not for a while.

"When I come back four years from now to return it, Reggie (the name she's chosen for her son) will be able to thank everyone personally."

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