Kristiina Miller knew her nonprofit would be featured in some sort of TV show when she was contacted by an unknown production company, but she couldn’t have imagined everything that feature would entail.
She worked with the producer — who as it turned out had given her all fake information — for a few days doing small segments about her nonprofit Garage of Blessings. On the third day she got a knock on the door at home as she awaited another shooting session.
Mike Rowe, of “Dirty Jobs” and “Deadliest Catch,” stood on the other side of the doorway.
Miller said she was struck speechless; Rowe had to ask if she was going to invite him in.
Turns out Rowe’s newest show, “Returning the Favor,” streams on Facebook, and it seeks to give back to those who serve their communities.
Miller’s Garage of Blessings, which offers free clothes, toiletries, books, housewares, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and more to those in need, will be featured in the show’s upcoming second season.
Miller said when she was finally able to speak to Rowe, she said “I feel like I want to touch you.”
Rowe apparently took this in stride. After he played with her pug/chihuahua mix Joey, she drove him to coffee at Chris’ Bakery in Oak Harbor, where he interviewed her about what the garage does and the barriers she’s faced since starting it in her own garage six years ago.
Then, Miller drove him to Goldie Road to see the garage. As she began to give him a tour, she had to stop mid-sentence when she saw new signs labeling the categories of items. Many green-shirted volunteers were in the garage, but Miller couldn’t believe how calm they were as they met the celebrity.
“They were just not responding the way I’d thought they’d respond,” said Miller.
What she didn’t know was that the volunteers already knew he was in town, and they’d been working with him and his crew for about a week. To get much of the interior work done, the volunteers encouraged Miller to stay home, which doubled as her office, and tackle paperwork.
During the tour, Rowe asked what was on the other side of a green door. The Blessings garage only took up about two-thirds of the building because Miller said she couldn’t afford to rent the whole space.
The landlord used the adjacent space for auto repair so Miller was reluctant to show Rowe the storage unit that she didn’t even own.
But Rowe, as his many fans know, is very persuasive.
Like any good TV-show “Reveal”, the other side was filled with people eagerly waiting to surprise her. Instead of greasy equipment, she found a newly renovated and painted space, just for the Garage of Blessings.
“All I remember is I about collapsed on the floor,” she said. The renovations included a bathroom, windows and new office for Miller—the last two of which she’s never had at the garages’ many locations.
‘But wait, there’s more.’ That’s a phrase Miller said she kept hearing during the surreal hour of surprising reveals.
Rowe guided her outside where she was greeted again by a crowd.
“I lost it again,” recalled Miller.
She didn’t even notice the next surprise, a gleaming white van painted with Garage of Blessings’ logo and motto “Needs Met, Lives Changed.”
The 2001 van will be used to pick up donations, and was donated itself by resident Don Howat, who just happened to be recently looking to give it away to a nonprofit.
Rowe and others involved in the show had garnered the support of local businesses to put all the surprises together. Humphrey Sign Co. made all the new signs, Taylor’s Painting transformed the new space, and many others contributed to the van renovations.
Jeff Humphrey, owner of the sign company, said he was asked to be the show’s on-site producer because of his strong business connections.
Humphrey also serves on the board of directors for the garage.
“It was an honor to do this,” he said. “Bigger than Kristiina, bigger than Garage of Blessings, is our community.”
The show didn’t only organize the surprise, but paid for two years’ rent on the space for the garage—complete with a giant check for $34,000. She also received a second check for $3,500 in donations for vehicle expenses.
Miller said she isn’t sure what she wants to use the additional space for yet. The presence of windows may make it ideal for the volunteers’ work space, she said. She also wants to take advantage of the expansion to accept furniture donations for the first time.
“I really have to process this,” she said.
The show will be posted on Facebook’s “Returning the Favor” in February, which incidentally coincides with the six-year anniversary of the garage, according to Miller.