Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Giving bikes to kids November 13, 2013

Me, riding Sky Blue at age 10 on the farm where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota.

Me, riding Sky Blue at age 10 on the Redwood County farm where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota. Photo taken in 1966.

LOOKING BACK ON MY CHILDHOOD, I cannot imagine life without a bicycle. My bike was my imaginary horse, my daredevil stunt car launched off makeshift ramps, my mode of transportation down county and township roads.

If not for my maternal grandfather, though, I never would have owned a bike. My parents could not afford bikes for their kids. So Grandpa would scavenge the local dump for bikes he could repair, repaint and deliver to me and my five siblings.

It mattered not that my bike, which I named Sky Blue, wasn’t new. I owned a bike. I was a happy kid.

That childhood memory bubbled to the surface Monday morning when Dee Bjork at The Crafty Maven in downtown Faribault handed me a flier about the Free Bikes 4 Kidz program. I wanted, no, needed, to learn more about this partnered local give-away by So How Are the Children and Allina Health (presenting sponsor for the non-profit Free Bikes 4 Kidz). So I phoned SHAC Director Carolyn Treadway.

The give-away “targets kids whose families couldn’t otherwise afford bikes,” says Treadway. Kids just like me and my siblings decades ago.

As Treadway and I concur, a child’s desire to own a bike is universal, transcending time.

On December 7, Treadway expects SHAC and Allina to give away 65 – 75 bikes to pre-registered Faribault youth. She’s actively searched for kids—handing out fliers to teachers, drawing on her connections through SHAC and dropping in at places like St. Vincent de Paul, a childcare center and a laundromat to find families needing bikes. She’s currently placing names on a waiting list.

Kids from Northfield and Steele County will also get new or gently-used and refurbished bikes at the Faribault Middle School pick-up site. All told, Treadway anticipates 150-175 bicycles to be distributed along with new bike helmets, compliments of Allina Health.

Among those expected to show up are an east-side Faribault woman who will claim seven bikes, Treadway says. The bicycles are for her neighbor children whose father, in a state of inebriation, destroyed their bikes. The woman will store the bikes in her garage until spring.

Treadway enthuses about such a neighborly caring spirit and about the volunteers who repair the used bikes and assist with the give-away. She’s also grateful for those who donate bikes, some of which were collected at the Faribault Bike Rodeo in October. Allina Health coordinates numerous collections of bikes to be distributed in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

Another local recipient is a Faribault father who signed his 12-year-old and 14-year-old up for Free Bikes 4 Kidz. When the dad asked if he could also get a bike for his 18-year-old, Treadway assured him he could. The older teen attends the Faribault Area Learning Center and a bike will enable him to stay in school because he will now have a way to get there.

Stories like that truly show the humanity of this program aimed at getting bikes to kids so they will have, as Treadway says, “access to safe and healthy physical activity.” Or, in the case of the 18-year-old, access to education.

The program also builds connections and a sense of community care.

Yet, the bare bones basics benefit of Free Bikes 4 Kidz is to get bikes into the hands of children who otherwise would not have a bike of their own. The program has grown significantly in Faribault, where only a dozen free bikes were distributed two years ago.

“Owning a bike,” Treadway says, “is very near and dear to a child’s heart.”

It is the universal childhood desire which transcends time. Just ask me. I’ve never forgotten Sky Blue or the grandpa who scavenged the dump so I could have a bike.

 A bike pulled from my garage.

A bike pulled from my garage and photographed. I then edited the image to illustrate this story.

FYI: To learn more about the non-profit Free Bikes for Kidz, click here.

For more information on Allina Health’s partnership in the program, click here.

To learn more about So How Are the Children, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling