Ways to give: Volunteers refurbish bikes for kids

EVERETT — The place smells of bicycle grease and rubber tires, not gingerbread cookies and peppermint. There’s an alley outside Sharing Wheels Community Bike Shop, not a pretty snowdrift. Still, there’s a hint of Santa’s workshop in the air.

At a work party Wednesday, volunteers went about their tasks at a purposeful pace. They refurbished rusty bike chains, installed new bicycle seats, tested brakes and fixed tires knowing their work would soon be making children smile.

“We want to get all these bikes done before Thanksgiving,” said Kristi Knodell, the nonprofit organization’s shop manager.

Sharing Wheels, which sells used bikes throughout the year and holds an annual kids’ bike swap, gives Christmas House about 100 refurbished children’s bikes each holiday season. The bikes aren’t new, but helpers make them shiny and safe. “Our goal is between 50 and 150. We always hope for at least 80,” Knodell said.

In one section of the shop Wednesday, a row of completed children’s bikes were tagged with green safety and maintenance checklists, ready to go to the Everett-based Christmas House. That nonprofit organization, which sets up shop Dec. 1-18 at the Everett Boys &Girls Club, provides qualifying low-income parents with holiday gifts for their children.

Bike shop volunteers won’t see the delight of a child surprised on Christmas morning with a like-new bike. They are cheered, though, knowing where the bikes will go.

“I always get stuck working on the pink ones,” Travis Oslin joked while tinkering with a girls bike.

“This will put a smile on somebody’s face,” said Oslin, 29, who picked up skills working at Tim’s Bike Shop in Everett. This is his fourth year helping Sharing Wheels with donations for Christmas House.

“It isn’t that hard to bring a bike back to life,” he said, adding that some older bikes were really built to last.

Knodell said the group’s mission is “connecting unused bicycles with people who need transportation.” Along with giving to Christmas House and helping kids trade up a size through bike swaps, the shop invites bike enthusiasts to use its facilities for a small fee. “People work for wheels, new cables, brake pads, things like that,” she said.

It’s now the holiday rush at Sharing Wheels, with bikes for kids topping the to-do list.

Published in today’s Herald is our annual Ways to Give list, including dozens of organizations that help people in need. Those able to share will find close-to-home opportunities to help others this holiday season.

Behind each organization listed are caring individuals. The helpers at Sharing Wheels — where a final pre-holiday work party will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today in the shop at 2525 Broadway — are only a few of many in our communities acting in the season’s true spirit.

Their generosity shows the power of one person to affect the lives of many. Not all charitable giving is the work of a big nonprofit organization. Schools, workplaces, religious groups and clubs all step up and reach out.

Kathy Leon is a member of the Gold Wing Touring Association, Chapter C. That’s a motorcycle group, not a charity. Yet every year, her Everett-based chapter gathers new stuffed animals, other small toys, children’s clothing and coats for Christmas House.

The drop-off site, Tuesdays through Saturdays, is Everett Powersports, 215 SW Everett Mall Way in Everett. There, “Charlie” the stuffed bear calls attention to a big blue donation bin. The toy and clothing drive runs through Dec. 10.

A Gold Wing is a big Honda touring bike. Leon, 67, said the Gold Wing Touring Association is a nationwide group with a strong presence in Washington. She and her husband, Carl, live in north Seattle, but have long been in the Everett chapter.

They meet at an Everett restaurant and take rides and longer trips with other members. Motorcycle travels have taken them as far as Nova Scotia. “When my husband and I retired in 2005, we went all over the United States. They’re real comfortable bikes,” she said.

Everett Powersports general manager Mike Leibold supports the local Gold Wing chapter’s charitable efforts. Around the country, Gold Wing groups raise money through their Ride for Kids, benefiting the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

“And every chapter has its own charity. Five or six years ago, we decided Christmas House needed our help,” Leon said.

Already, her guest bedroom is full of toys and clothing to be delivered when Christmas House opens its doors. “It’s fun to work together as a chapter,” Leon said. Each year, group members dress in their royal blue shirts to volunteer for a shift at Christmas House, helping parents as they pick out their children’s gifts.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of other volunteers,” Leon said.

It’s touching, she said, to see the gratitude of a parent as they get a few gifts and maybe a winter coat for a child. “A lot of them don’t have money for bare necessities,” Leon said.

Some children will be lucky to find a shiny, refurbished bicycle from Sharing Wheels.

“After helping out here last year, I became a bit of a regular,” Tony Simonelli said at the Sharing Wheels work party. The Everett man volunteered Wednesday with his 16-year-old daughter, Anna Simonelli. “It’s every little kid’s dream,” the teen said of finding a shiny bike on Christmas morning.

“We try to get them spruced up a little bit,” said Sharing Wheels volunteer Tim Armstrong.

In the busy workshop, those dream bikes were lined up, ready for delivery. Some have glittery paint and cool names: “Next Miniscreamer,” “Hot Wheels Racing Team” and “Magna Maui Miss.”

Gifts go both ways. In giving her time and gathering donations, Leon finds meaning and community.

“When we work those Christmas House shifts, we really realize the impact we have. When you find the perfect gift for someone and put it in their basket, you feel like, wow, they’re going to have a nice Christmas,” Leon said. “That’s where we get our jollies.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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