Refurbished bicycle ministry gets rolling

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Refurbished bicycle ministry gets rolling

By Larry Macke | Dec. 15, 2009 {1111}

Planting a seed is an act of faith. Once it’s sown, there are no guarantees about its growth. There’s only the hope and prayer that it will bear fruit.

A volunteer gets the gunk out of the gears of a bicycle during a workday for Bicycle Blessings. Photo by Bob Wilson. Photo #09-1349.

Members of First United Methodist Church in Winter Park took a unique approach to scattering seeds this past spring, with the hope of bearing much fruit in their community.

With the approval of the church’s finance committee, each family attending worship on Pentecost Sunday received $25 from the church’s Easter offering and a challenge to use the funds to benefit the community.

Some used the money to finance a fund-raiser benefiting an existing mission project. Others opted to help people in the community left jobless during the current economic downturn. And one couple was inspired to create a program they felt certain would produce thousands of smiles this Christmas and throughout the year. The initiative is called Bicycle Blessings, and through it volunteers collect, refurbish and give bicycles to needy children for recreation and adults for transportation.

“Our theme that Sunday was encouraging people to be in ministry with the community,” said the Rev. Dr. Bob Bushong, senior pastor and minister of preaching at the church. “And we encouraged them to talk about (how to use the money) and pray about it as a family. Some took a week to figure it out, and I’m still hearing from people who sat on it until the right thing came along. Janet and Jack Hays decided to go this route.”

With six children and 13 grandchildren, the couple has had ample experience producing smiles through gift giving, but the Bicycle Blessings concept didn’t emerge overnight. It followed nearly a month of discussion and prayer. A visit from a daughter and two granddaughters from New Jersey ignited the brainstorm. The Hayses’ initially thought they would work with The Seeing Eye, an organization in Morristown, New Jersey, that provides working dogs for the blind, but the idea didn’t bear much fruit.

Volunteers repair used bicycles on the church lawn. Photo by Bob Wilson. Photo #09-1350.

“So our daughter and her family were getting ready to leave, and we were talking about how we’d need to do something with the bikes we’d saved for our granddaughters because they’d be too big for them the next time they’d come,” Jack said. “And the idea just started coming together. We thought, maybe we could buy more bikes with the $25, and within 15 minutes the ideas were spinning like mad, and we said, ‘This could really go somewhere.’ ”

Jack’s first bicycle was a refurbished bike, so for him the idea of fixing up bikes for others wasn’t that far a leap. He admits he had very little in the way of bike-fixing experience beyond what he’d learned as a child, but before he got into his business career he was an engineer, and as he says, “That’s what we do.” He left the logistical considerations to Janet.

“She’s an organizer,” he said. “She’s the one who sets all this up: she contacts everyone and makes assignments and delivers and picks up and all of that.”

The next step was to talk with Carol Smith, the church’s director of lay ministries, about getting others involved. From that conversation, Amber and Brian Woodard — “a younger couple, with more energy” Jack says — volunteered to co-chair the ministry.

The couples originally hoped to get as many bikes refurbished and delivered as possible before Christmas, but as discussions progressed, the opportunity to create a year-round ministry emerged.

The Christmas idea wasn’t new. Each Christmas season the congregational was challenged to give away 100 or more new bicycles to the needy and generally met that goal. But given the current economy, the new program held a particular appeal.

“We just thought, this doesn’t require as much money, and people could donate used bikes or else go to a garage sale and buy a bike for $15 or so and donate it,” Jack says. “And there’s been so many ways to get people involved, from donations to fixing bikes to delivering them. Even our grandkids have been able to clean up a few bikes and feel like they’ve been able to contribute.”

Volunteers get ready to load bicycles for delivery. Photo by Bob Wilson. Photo #09-1351.

At first volunteers worked within the Winter Park congregation for support, but eventually they took the program out into the general community with the help of a story in the local newspaper. So far, there have been three bicycle weekend events at the church, including its most recent Dec. 5. Saturday is bicycle donation day, and Sunday is bicycle fix-up and delivery day. So far the ministry, which has its own Web site, has refurbished and delivered close to 200 bicycles.

For many involved, the delivery days are the real payoff. The bicycles often go to children who’ve never had a bike or to parents who have a job but no way to get there. It can be emotional.

“One of the first recipients was a boy in the second grade, and he and his sister lived less than two miles away from school so they had to walk, and he had asthma,” Jack said. “He saw this bike, and he could not stand still, shifting his weight from one foot to the other — just so much excitement. You can’t beat that.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Macke is a freelance writer based in Vero Beach, Fla.

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