Holiday bike drives for kids

From prisoners to cops, bike shops to auto dealers, US groups give for kids

The holiday season can bring out the best in people, and that can certainly be said about a number of organizers in the US who are looking to put a smile on younger would-be bicycle riders this year. There are more than a dozen programs large and small that are in place to help gets bicycles to kids for Christmas.

The Boise Bicycle Project is celebrating its sixth year as it looks to provide recycled bicycles to hundreds of deserving kids. And like many programs it wouldn’t be possible were it not for the help of a legion of volunteers.

“Our volunteers and staff have been working round the clock for months and soon their hard work will come to fruition as we hand over 350 recycled kids bikes on Dec 22nd,” said Jimmy Hallyburton, executive director of the Boise Bicycle Project. “The Christmas Kids Bike Giveaway is without a doubt the most powerful and rewarding experience we take part in each year.”

This particular project was born out of good memories, as many of the organizers looked back to their own delight in seeing a new bicycle under the tree, and knowing that many kids today aren’t so lucky.

 “Many of us had bicycles underneath our Christmas trees at some point growing up, and we take that for granted,” Hallyburton told BikeRadar. “For most of these kids, that is just not a reality, and to be able to give that gift, that life-changing gift, is something we feel so honored to be a part of.”

Bike giveaway programs create big smiles on both sides of the equation

Across the country in Florida many youngsters will likely to get to ride new bicycles over the holidays as retailer BikeStreet USA has partnered with Bikes for Tykes to give away 1,000 brand new bicycles. The bike shop is donating bicycles in the names of the first 1,000 customers who purchased a store item at any one of the eight stores located in Palm Beach, Martin and St. Counties.

“It’s simple: no child should be without a bike,” said BikeStreet USA founder and chairman/CEO Pat Patregnani. “As passionate cyclists, my team and I understand and appreciate the things that cycling has done for us in our lives and we want to make sure every child has the same opportunity to have that feeling.”

While Patregnani and her team show they have oversized hearts this season purchases from BikeStreet USA could be any size for a bike to be donated in the shopper’s name.

Other programs throughout the country include those organized by cycling clubs, police departments and even those who are serving time behind bars.

Inmates at the Toledo Correctional Institution assembled more than 50 bikes that were donated by the so-called “Bike Lady,” Kate Koch Gatch of Blacklick, Ohio. Since 2008, the all-volunteer nonprofit Bike Lady Inc. provides new bikes, helmets and locks to the Franklin County Children Services Holiday Wish program for children with a history of abuse, neglect of abandonment.

“This is my fifth year of doing it,” said Kate Koch Gatch, a former foster parent, who launched the program in Columbus. “I have wanted to expand for years, and looked at how to make it bigger every year.”

Inmates at multiple Ohio institutions assemble bikes for kids for the Bike Lady program

She buys the bikes directly from Huffy unassembled, and has been so successful that it expanded beyond Franklin County and now includes seven Ohio counties in total. But as the program has gotten bigger so too have some headaches.

“I don’t have any labor and I don’t have a warehouse,” Gatch told BikeRadar.

A fellow foster parent, who worked at a correction facility, helped solve the assembly part and hence multiple institutions around the state now let inmates become a version of Santa’s helpers offering their time and skills to the Bike Lady. This year those unlikely elves have been busy.

“We’ll go over 1,000 bikes throughout those counties this year,” Gatch added, noting that many of the bikes go to teens, as foster children can’t get driver’s licenses. “By working with prisons this is way for those incarcerated to give back, even if they can’t give to their own kids.”

Elsewhere in Ohio the Liberty County Bikes for Christmas program also looked for donations and aimed to give bicycles to children in need, and for the past two years has also called upon those in prison to give back. State inmates at the Hightower Prison unit in Dayton have been called upon to assemble bikes and trikes, something that has helped lift up spirits for the holidays.

In California’s San Leandro local Police Officer Louie Brandt has spent the last few holiday seasons raising money for an annual bike fundraiser. It was reported that he surpassed last year’s goal of $17,000 and upped his goals to $23,000 this year. Officer Brandt raises the money annually to build bicycles and donate them to local children at the Davis Street Family Resource Center.

The Boise Bicycle Project is just one of many programs in the US that rallies to get bikes to kids for the holidays

Some bike clubs are also getting into the spin of things, and helping out those who have served for their country as well. Members of the Zombie Bicycle Club of San Antonio, Texas, have joined forces with the United States Marine Corps this holiday season in an effort to collect toys and cash donations, but is also looking to help put many young riders on bikes as well.

Even those who might not bike themselves are looking to get into the holiday spirit and it includes the Associated Builders & Contractors, which disrupted hundreds of bikes, helmets and locks to South Florida children in the 17th annual ABC Handlebars for the Holidays. One auto dealer is even getting in on the act.

Shottenkirk Chevrolet of Quincy, Illinois is taking donated bikes – even those in disrepair – and having its mechanics make sure those are ready to roll in time for the holidays. The staff has been collecting 100 bikes and making them ready for delivery to the Salvation Army. As with the Boise Bicycle Project, this is just one of many that looks to ensure that bikes that are still fit to ride are refurbished for those in need.

But one Chandler, Arizona resident goes a step even further with his Re-Cycle for Bi-Cycles. Since 2007 John Kruchowsky and a core group of friends gathers and sell recyclables, including scrap metal that often contains bikes beyond repair, and use the money to purchase bicycles for kids.

All these efforts, and probably the many more we didn’t include here, should put smiles on children's faces and perhaps even future cyclists on the road or trail — things that all cyclists can celebrate this holiday season.

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