Getting around town hasn't always been easy for Brandon's Christina Salatino, but it has been necessary.
With two jobs and three children there is always somewhere to go, and her most common form of transportation, for want of a better option, has been walking.
Thanks to an annual tradition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however, Salatino now has a less exhausting and more effective way of getting around. She can thank the Buccaneers – and her father – for removing one of her life's biggest obstacles and putting her back on the road to success.
On Monday, the 29-year-old Salatino was treated to a life-changing surprise when Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris surprised her with a brand new car.
Yes, a new car.
Morris' surprise was the latest in a program the Buccaneers began in 2010 and aptly titled, "The Road to Success." Salatino was selected out of over 180 applicants who were nominated on Buccaneers.com, as fans were once again asked to share stories about individuals whose situations would be significantly improved by a new car. She was nominated by her father, who has watched her struggle to balance her two jobs and daily family responsibilities because of unreliable transportation.
"She works really hard, so I thought she was a deserving nominee," said Richard Salatino, Christina's father. "I took the time to send the letter in, just hoping for the best. She was proud that I'd take the time to write the letter for her. That was special to her, which made me feel good. I told her, 'Win or lose, there's a lot of needy people out there.' I'm just thrilled to death. This is a blessing that will change her life."
Salatino, a single mother, has lost the use of two cars in the past year: the first to a fuel line leak and the second to a blown tire and subsequent crash. She endured these difficulties alongside her housemate, another single mother of three children with whom she had shared the most recent car. Without her own transportation, Salatino had been persevering by using taxi cabs, getting rides from friends or even walking to and from work.
From now on, Salatino will travel around town in a shiny 2011 Ford Fiesta. The car will allow her to meet all of her responsibilities and will also serve as a constant reminder of her dad's love.
"For my father to even be that proud of me to write that letter and have that much respect and love for me, that means everything to me," said Salatino. "My father still works two jobs to this day trying to make ends meet, and that's my biggest role model. The fact that he wrote this letter for me really means a lot."
When the elder Salatino first learned of the Buccaneers' car program, he couldn't let the opportunity pass.
"It was getting tougher without a vehicle," said her father. "We live down in Port Charlotte, and she wasn't able to get down there to see us. The kids were in the Boys & Girls Club and getting involved in things like that and they couldn't do that any longer because she didn't have any reliable transportation, so I figured, 'What do I have to lose?' I'll take some time and write a letter, and it worked out."
The Buccaneers narrowed down the nominees to several finalists, many of whom were also very deserving. Determining the eventual recipient of the car was difficult but Richard Salatino made it just a little bit easier.
"Her story was touching," said Morris. "When you see her and get a chance to meet her finally, you can see her words jump off the page, and I think it's important for us to reward those type of people when we can. She's got a great family."
Keeping the decision a secret from Salatino was another challenge.
"It was easy for me," said Morris. "I was able to get away and do some things, but her family I'm sure, knowing you won a car…all the guys have done a great job of keeping it a secret as well, so it's been awesome."
Just as excited about the new car were Salatino's children, nine-year-old Andrew, seven-year-old Tianna and four-year-old LaJuan. The significance of the Buccaneers' donation was not lost on the younger family members.
"They know what it means too, because I've never had a new car," said Salatino. "I've always had older cars and we've been riding in cars with no windows and it's been a really hard struggle. They were with me when the car burned down and sometimes my son still cries about fires, and it's just a true blessing. It really is."
Along with the new car, the Buccaneers are providing Salatino with Hess gasoline for an entire year and six months of car insurance from Geico.
"It's great to be able to help people out, to be able to do whatever we can in this community for the people here, for the people doing strong things and having motivation to fuel their lives for apparently a great family," said Morris. "They're obviously great kids and she's a really hard-working person who deserved it."
After all the surprises, the new car owner still had to pinch herself to believe it was real.
"I want to wake up, it's not really happening, like it's a dream," said Salatino. "I just really can't believe it."