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Everyone should have a bike.
This is the philosophy behind Pedal It Forward in Northwest Arkansas, an organization with a mission of serving the community by providing bicycles to children and adults in need. This summer, in cooperation with First Security Bank, they are hosting a bike drive to make it especially easy for people to donate during the summer with drop-off locations. Since my family had a couple of extra bicycles residing in our backyard shed, my boys and I crammed them into our minivan and took them with us to the organization’s Rogers warehouse, inconspicuously tucked beside the city’s activity center.
To step inside is to get a feel for the mission in action. This workshop is decorated with the bright purples and pinks and yellows and rugged tires of large and small bicycles: hundreds lined up ready and waiting for assessment, for repair or for donation to someone who might not otherwise be able to afford one. My children and I took an informal tour, distracted and a bit overwhelmed by the colors of so many bicycles.
One wall of the warehouse is lined with bins of bike parts, pieces and tubes. Pegboard work benches hold most of the tools needed to bring donated bicycles to good condition.
Repair stations allow easy access for volunteers who are trained, apprentice-style to fix or replace broken and dilapidated chains and flat tires. Pedal It Forward most needs the time and hands of volunteers who can commit to sticking around for a while, not just a day or two, and adequately learn the skills of bike repair: skills the experienced volunteers are more than willing to teach.
Indeed, the whole space is indicative of a professional shop, minus the expectation of profit. Bikes are not sold, only donated. Sometimes this happens directly, but more often, it comes through collaboration with other community organizations.
When I spoke with David Tovey, co-founder of Pedal It Forward, he reminisced about spending summer days as a child on his bicycle, and the adventures that came along for the ride. We both talked about our memories of pedaling around our respective neighborhoods with friends and the changes and growth in this region of Arkansas that has led to bike trails and paths and more opportunities for this everyday fun and physical activity. He doesn’t want anyone to be without the experience. Tovey is not talking about competition and racing or hard-core cycling, but rather the joy that comes with getting on a bike and taking off.
When Tovey, who started Pedal It Forward with other cyclists started in 2014, they had no model for this mission; they still do not. They simply shared common excitement and a desire to get something started. That start won’t be seeing a finish line anytime soon. Since then, over two thousand bikes have been donated, fueling a desire to triple the 600 that currently come in each year.
One of the neatest things about Pedal It Forward is the partnerships that help identify people in the area who could use a bike. Working with organizations like Sharing is Caring, Boys and Girls Club and 7Hills Homeless Shelter has made it possible to efficiently distribute to people identified as being in need, so the volunteers gathering and repairing bicycles can effectively keep on supporting the repair process.
“Our concentration is the supply chain,” says Tovey, whose enthusiasm about getting bikes distributed is evident as he shows us around the facility.
He is encouraged by programs designed by some of those partners, schools included, who have set up processes within their programs for recipients to earn a bike: educational projects, some type of work, a process that encourages putting an effort toward completion with the end result being bicycle ownership.
After my tour and our conversation, Tovey and I hauled the two bikes out of the van. Each one will go through an organized process, built up over time with trial and error. Both will go through a triage, where needs are assessed. Each bicycle will be in a line for the appropriate repair, and eventually end up tagged on the other side of the warehouse for the right owner, whose adventure is about to begin.
Pedal It Forward FAQs: Interested in giving a bicycle? Becoming a committed volunteer? Helping support in other ways? Your questions, answered.
Pedal it Forward and First Security Bank are making donations convenient. The bike drive is happening now: June and July 2019.
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