Story Courtesy of Cleveland.com
This Sunday, families in two area neighborhoods will awaken to the rumbling of 14 semi-trucks as they roll in loaded down with brand-spanking-new bikes.
On that day, 1,000 kids will receive a new bike and for some, that might be the only gift they get, said Brian Miner who co-founded the nonprofit Elves & More of Northeast Ohio with his friend, Tim House.
The men, who once cycled together competitively in Stark County, launched the organization after learning through the bicycling community about a man in Texas who ran a similar program. The Texan, David Moore, said that during one delivery, two boys were quietly off by themselves after getting their new bikes. When Moore approached them to make sure all was well, the boys said they’d never gotten a Christmas present and wanted to save the bikes for Christmas day.
“That kind of thing is not unique to Houston,” Miner said. “It’s also in Akron and Cleveland and other areas.”
Miner and House got in touch with Moore to learn about his program, now called CYCLE, and struck out on their own. Despite building and delivering bikes all over the area for 12 years, Elves & More doesn’t seek attention, and Miner describes the project as “a labor of love.”
“Tim and I joke we’re the lemonade stand of nonprofits,” he said, as both men work day jobs and run the Akron-based nonprofit in their spare time. Miner is an architect at Hasenstab Architects Inc. in Akron, and House a materials and production manager at Columbus McKinnon Corp. in Salem.
The bicycles are purchased from the Huffy bike manufacturing company at a discount, but require assembly. In the first year, the men relied heavily on family and friends to build the 400 bikes they gave away. The next year, jumping to 1,000 bikes, they were harder pressed to get the volunteers needed until an Akron Beacon Journal story on the group drew the help they needed. Since then, numbers have steadily increased, as volunteers bring along friends each year.
About 500 volunteers gathered last weekend to assemble the bikes at Ferry Industries in Stow, which donates the warehouse space to build and house the bikes until they are delivered. Each year, volunteers get new t-shirts.
“It was cool to be able to walk around this week and see some of those old timers who are wearing t-shirts a decade old,” Miner said.
To pay for the bikes, the group hosts fundraisers and applies for grants. XPO Logistics, a global logistics company, donates the semi-trucks and workers needed to haul the bikes from a Huffy warehouse in California and then transport them from the assembly point to the selected neighborhoods on delivery day.
Over the years, the group has given bikes to kids in many Summit County neighborhoods and in the past five years has branched out to include neighborhoods in Stark and Cuyahoga counties.
Josh Troche, who has volunteered with the group for 11 years and created a video of build day, said no one, not even the volunteers, know what neighborhoods will be chosen until 15 minutes before they head out on Sunday morning.
“That’s kind of the beauty of it,” Troche said. “It’s for the hard-hit neighborhoods.”
To ensure they get people’s attention, the trucks will sound their horns as they drive through the neighborhood until they arrive at the designated intersection. From there, word of mouth and social media will help get folks out of their houses.
“The true mission is to get kids out and about,” he said. “To get them to after-school programs and give them the freedom and opportunities to do the stuff they couldn’t do otherwise.”
In its simplest form, the group wants to provide hope to an underprivileged neighborhood, Miner said, but the bikes also give the gift of possibility.
“We want them to see that their future and their life could be completely different than what they see out on the street corner,” he said.