By the end of last summer, Sunshine Taxi was down to three cabs, and owner Tamara Tomasello panicked.
Tomasello, who founded the company in 2008 to service McHenry and later Woodstock, didn’t know whether the company and its diminished fleet could continue a valuable partnership with Woodstock School District 200 once school resumed.
For the past two years, the taxi company had blocked an hour a week to give special education students from Woodstock North High School free rides to Walmart, as part of a life skills class that teaches the students budgeting and independent living.
Fewer cabs for a taxi business usually results in service reductions, especially when the service is provided for free. But Tomasello decided the service needed to continue for the kids. She bought another cab – made the necessary repairs – and added to her fleet.
Like with any business decision, a story lies behind it. For Tomasello, the story behind the District 200 partnership is a personal one.
“I have a special needs child now,” Tomasello said through tears. “Two years ago, my sister died. My nieces and nephews went into foster care – one of them being special needs.”
The value Tomasello finds with her company’s partnership with District 200 only intensified after her sister, who struggled with alcohol and drug use, died, she said.
Her three nieces and nephews – Samantha, Anthony and Nicole – came into Tomasello’s custody in September 2013 after a court battle in Michigan, where the three resided.
“It was a struggle,” Tomasello said. “I pretty much left it in the hands of God and figured something was going to work out. ... I needed to get them to safety.”
They came to her with physical and emotional problems, she said. Samantha, in particular, had special needs and suffered from Blount’s disease, a growth disorder within the leg that causes it to grow inward. Her niece still struggles to walk, Tomasello said.
The larger family moved from McHenry to Woodstock into a larger home to fit six children, Tomasello and her husband. Tomasello worked to get her three new children into shape, both academically and physically.
They now earn As and Bs in school and make the honor roll, she said. Tomasello also found a way to teach the three kids about charity during their first Christmas together.
After finding out the three never celebrated Christmas, she took the three children to buy presents and helped the children deliver the gifts to some needy families within the Woodstock area, she said.
Tomasello expanded on the idea last Christmas and partnered with Just for Fun roller rink in McHenry to host a holiday food and coat drive for area children and their families.
Tomasello’s desire to give back to children and families in the community is why Ben Frederick nominated her as an Everyday Hero. Frederick, a customer of Sunshine Taxi, referenced the holiday drive and the District 200 partnership as reasons why Tomasello deserved the distinction.
Tomasello said she did not know what to think about the nomination. She doesn’t consider herself a hero, but she admitted Sunshine Taxi has brought out the best in her.
She founded the company in 2008 after moving from Chicago to McHenry after her father died. She arrived in McHenry County as a single mom without specific plans for her future.
After a self-described bad investment with a Crystal Lake cab company, Tomasello channeled her parents, their fighter mentality and scoured the Internet. She came away with a tax identification number and name for her own taxi cab business – Sunshine Taxi.
Started as alternative transportation for McHenry bar goers, the company has expanded to cover Woodstock and McHenry, providing airport, in-town rides and, when needed, community service.
“I was struggling to work pretty much for me and my children. I worked full time for me and the kids,” Tomasello said. “After I did lose my dad, I started thinking differently.”