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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  12/1/2009

Turning Wheels for Kids

In years past, when the holidays loom on the horizon, I've been liberal with suggestions for giving to bike advocacy and non-profit organizations. Well, this year I'm switching gears, just a little. This year I want to sing the praises of a truly grass roots charity that puts deserving but disadvantaged kids on wheels.

Turning Wheels for Kids buys thousands of bikes from the likes of Raleigh America, puts them together in one gigasmic "build day" in December, and sees that they end up as Santa's special gift to thousands of South Bay youngsters -- kids who otherwise would never receive their own bike.

It started six years ago


Back in 2003, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center nurse Susan Runsvold had a sort of epiphany. Why not buy a bunch of bikes and give them away? So began what Sue hoped would be a tradition of collecting money from her friends and colleagues to fulfill her vision. Two years later she asked for more help from the Valley community, and TWFK was born. Result: over 6,000 bikes distributed in 2005 alone! Today, in just four years, TWFK distributes bikes not only at the holidays, but also year round through special community partnerships.

ACTC jumps in


I "discovered" TWFK about three years ago, when fellow Almaden Cycle Touring Club member Jim Schallau came to a club meeting and asked for volunteers to build bikes. He'd seen an article in his neighborhood weekly paper about Sue and her project. "At the time I was the coordinator of the ACTC Bicycle Recycling Program," he recalls. "[We] provided refurbished bicycles to low-income people who needed them to get to work. In this job I had seen the poverty that was in our valley and the amount of effort required of some people just to survive. Bicycles for their children were certainly lower priority than having food and clothes.

"When I saw the program that Sue had started, I knew it was something that I had to get involved in. [So] I approached the ACTC board and asked their support to make this a significant club activity. Since then individual members (and the club's treasury) have generously contributed funds to purchase bikes, and many members have contributed their time and talent to help assemble the bikes."

The response was tremendous. The ACTC team has been so enthusiastic that last year they walked away with the Bike Buck Cup, and I have a sneaking feeling they're aiming to keep that first-place team trophy in the club.

Roy The first ACTC member to check in last year was Roy Beck, "a great bike assembler," according to Jim Schallau "He's also one of the guys who always seems to have whatever tool is needed for the job."

Asked last year if any particular ACTC members stand out, Sue Runsvold immediately thought of Jim. "We don't have to call Jim because Jim calls us," she said. "We are so dependent on the cycling community. Without them we don't have a program."

One hard-core group got the bug so bad they signed up for the Death Ride as Team TurningWheels for Kids. They even designed their own team jerseys, and are offering a limited number of them to this year's volunteers.

AnitaThis year volunteer assemblers will build over 2,000 bikes in one day on December 12 at the San Jose Convention Center. It's a magical, "Santa's Workshop" kind of day. Sorry, but if you haven't registered already, you won't be able to volunteer for Bike Build 2009. Registration for the Big Bike Build 2009 is now closed for both individuals and teams. In fact, each year an overwhelming response generally closes registration in just one day.

"I have a very warm feeling at the end of the Bike Build day," Jim Schallau told me. "After all the bikes have been assembled and distributed to the various charities, knowing that 2000 children are going to have a very memorable Christmas morning." And not just because he shared the day with his grandson, Jason.

JasonKarl Laucher claims to have "circled the planet aimlessly looking for a worthy cause. It was a pilgrimage that would transcend politics and msg-laden fatty foods. When Jim Schallau invited me to help out with the TWFK program the violins began to play, and I thought 'Kids! What could better than helping kids get a bike?'"

Year-round partnerships


Playing Santa's elves keeps TWFK really busy in December. But there's plenty to do the rest of the year as well. For instance, they also provide bikes to the Lifestyle Modification Clinic of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center run by Dr. Dan Delgado. As far as we know, we are the only organization in existence that enables doctors to facilitate the tools needed to promote healthy lifestyles with the prescription of bicycles!

According to Dr. Dan, "non-profit organizations such as TurningWheels For Kids (TWFK), are vital in helping to combat the obesity epidemic in our community. . . . For some of my patients, TWFK is the only resource these families can turn to."

You can still help

There's no lack for willing hands to wrench of Build Day. But there's a crying need for the funds to buy all 2,000 bikes (even at Raleigh's reduced prices), plus supply each kid with a helmet and, hopefully, a bike lock as well. If you live, work or even spend time in the South Bay, consider donating to TWFK in some form. 100% of your donation will go directly toward the purchase of bicycles. And you'll make a lot of otherwise out-of-luck kids very happy.

You say you have a bike that's been sitting in the garage for years and you'd like to donate it? Sorry, TWFK doesn't do used bikes. But the Silicon Valley Bicycle Exchange does. The Bicycle Exchange donates bicycles and helmets throughout the year to local charities that serve both children and adults -- including homeless individuals who need transportation from shelters to places of employment and schooling. The SVBE meets on the second Saturday of each month (except Dec) to receive, repair, and distribute its inventory of donated bicycles. Why not sign up?

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net



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