With the end of this challenging year in sight, many Americans are as acutely aware as ever that a plethora of ideological issues divides us. From political dust-ups to debates on who makes the best pizza in town, it seems that all too often we find ourselves to be either Venusians or Martians who can’t agree on anything.
While we all bring a different perspective to the table on a variety of things, almost everyone has one thing in common: the memory of getting a bike for Christmas, a birthday or graduation.
Getting a bike, unlike any other item, is something that almost always comes on a special occasion. Rare is the kid who has a memory of his parents just waking up one Saturday morning and saying, “Hey, what do ya say we get you a new bike today?”
This, I solidly believe, is something we can all agree upon.
Receiving a bike is a major milestone in a kid’s life. Realizing just how important it is for a boy or girl to become the owner of their own personal mode of transportation, Elaine Pease, who for many years, served as a senior license and code services inspector for the city of Burbank, established the Bike Angels program in 2008.
Formed as a group of volunteers whose mission is to collect, repair and restore used bicycles for less fortunate kids in Burbank, the Bike Angels in that first year presented a handful of the items.
“In 2008 the economy was very bad,” said Pease. “As a member of the board of the Salvation Army, I would see the requests to Santa we received for bikes from local kids whose parents couldn’t afford an expense like that, and all I could think of was how we could go about fulfilling those requests.”
Enlisting a few folks who could fix bikes, Pease saw the program take off, and as each year went by it got requests for more bikes from kids whose families had been vetted by the Burbank Corps of the Salvation Army, the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley, the Burbank Family Service Agency, Penny Lane Family Center and the Coordinating Council, which oversees the Holiday Basket program. Over the past 12 years, the Bike Angels program has grown and now provides more than 200 refurbished and even new bikes for kids each Christmas.
In recent years, the Bike Angels have broadened their mission to make bikes available to adults who have no other form of transportation. They have also partnered with the Burbank Police Officers’ Association and the Burbank Fire Department to put on bike safety programs and to make an annual donation of gift cards and Thanksgiving dinners to residential families who are clients of Family Service Agency.
Now looking to expand their partnerships, the Bike Angels have been reaching out to new local entities.
“In the past we have worked with the Salvation Army, but they have restructured to combine with the Glendale corps and our desire was to keep this a Burbank-based program, so this year we have reached out to work with the city’s Park and Recreation Department and the Burbank Unified School District,” said Pease.
Although the Bike Angels work all year long accepting donations of bikes and fixing and refurbishing them, December is, of course, their busiest time of year. Pease, who is supported by a core group of volunteers that includes Mayor Sharon Springer, Terre Hirsch, Mike Drolet, Stan LaFlotte, Rick Baza, Allen Carlstrom, Colleen Koll and Marion Goodman, said they have become like a little family.
“When we get together to work on the bikes, someone will bring cookies or soup and everyone pitches in to make it work,” said Pease. “It is very heart-warming to be involved with this special group of people.”
Asked to reflect on some of the many bracing memories she and her group have made since the program began, Pease said she is proud of the volunteers who in some cases — after being beseeched for a type of bike they don’t have in their inventory — have taken it upon themselves to buy a new bike that fits the request.
Beaming with pride as she told that story, Pease became more introspective when she recalled seeing kids receive their bikes over the years.
“There are so many emotional memories,” she said. “A few years ago we had a bike that had been donated by a family whose son had been killed in the Northridge earthquake. He loved his bike so much that his parents couldn’t part with it for many years after his death. But when they heard about what we do, they said they thought it was time to let it go for a kid who needed a bike.”
She also recalled an enduring memory of the day she and her fellow Bike Angels presented a young girl with her first bike.
“She was just a little girl and when we gave her the bike she was very shy and timid until her mother encouraged her to put her hands on the handlebars,” Pease recalled. “When she did, she just held on to them for dear life and wouldn’t let go. I watched them as they walked away with the sun shining on her little blond head. She just kept holding on to that bike and looking up to her mother as if to ask: ‘Is this really mine?’ It’s those kind of moments that make everything we do worthwhile.”
This year the Bike Angels are looking for a new storage location of at least 1,500 square feet. If you know of such a space that could be donated or wish to donate a used bike, offer financial support or help repair and refurbish bikes, email Elaine Pease at email@example.com.
David Laurell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.