Lansing man wins new car for his good deeds

Mazda selects him as one of 50 ‘community heroes’ during the pandemic

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WEDNESDAY, Dec. 2 — Leandro Passoa was at a loss for words.

But given that he had just won a brand new Mazda Miata, it’s understandable.

Passoa, 30, of Lansing, was honored live on “Good Morning America” today as a “community hero.”

Passoa and his husband, Greg Frens, began stocking food in a street-side “blessing box” at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Lansing last spring. Passoa has been collecting unemployment compensation— sometimes spending all of his check on groceries for it. Frens entered him in the contest.

This morning around 8:45 a.m., he learned that he was one of 50 community heroes selected by Mazda to receive a brand new, white, two-seater convertible, with a sticker price of about $37,500, plus the money to cover the taxes on it as the gift.

Passoa learned he was a winner on national television from Ginger Zee, a Grand Rapids native who is a “Good Morning America” cast member. She interviewed three of the “finalists” — and then revealed they were more than finalists. They were winners and their cars waited outside.

“I didn’t know what to say,” Passoa said shortly afterward.

He knew how to act, though. During a commercial break, the ABC crew told him to act excited, wave his hands, and so on, when they came back live to show him approaching the car.

He didn’t have to act. He said he was genuinely surprised.

Passoa is a Brazilian native who moved to Lansing in 2015 and married Frens that year. He taught himself English and earned a two-year degree from Lansing Community College then a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, from which he graduated this spring. His degree is in media information.

After the pandemic started last March, Passoa lost his job in May as a bellman at the Marriott in East Lansing. He is still unemployed.

“When the pandemic hit,” Frens said, “he was more concerned about other people than himself. He’s looking out for people he doesn’t even know.”

The blessing box at St. Paul’s already existed, mostly for books. Passoa and Frens, who live nearby, would see it on their walks. Passoa noticed a food can in it one day.

That inspired him to bring more food, which he started doing frequently, spending $100 to $200 of his unemployment payments, sometimes more. Meanwhile, they posted word of it at their church. Soon, people started donating food to them at their house to keep the box full.

Meanwhile Frens was watching “Good Morning America” when he saw a story about Mazda’s campaign to recognize 50 good Samaritans — and give them a shiny Miata with an automatically retracting roof. He thought what his husband was doing was exactly what Mazda was looking for. So he entered Passoa.

And he was right. Of the hundreds of applicants, not only did Passoa end up in the top 50 — Mazda picked him to be one of the three featured on live television.

If there’s a downside, it’s that it is winter in Michigan, and one expected to be cold and wet to boot.

The car is headed soon to Frens’ father’s pole barn to await springtime.

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