Take a Ride: Josephine County Community Bike Giveaway Program Fosters Empowerment
On any given weeknight, after pulling long hours working construction, Lonnie Boyer can be found tinkering in a rented storage unit, building bikes to give away for free. The Community Bike Giveaway Program his family began four months ago has exceeded their expectations and pushed their tiny shop to capacity, but it hasn’t stopped them from their vision to improve the lives of the most challenged, one pedal at a time.
“It was just before Thanksgiving last year, “says Boyer. “We were pondering getting some free bikes so we could give them away to kids for Christmas. I ran a Craigslist ad and got 15 bikes the first day, and we knew we were going to be busy for the next six months to a year, easy.”
The family has built and donated nearly 200 bikes to rehabilitation programs, shelters and food pantries throughout Josephine and Jackson counties with more orders coming in.
After researching other bike share and giveaway organizations the Boyers saw more growth potential if they attained non-profit status, enabling them down the road to work through the law enforcement and city of Grants Pass in possibly starting a city-wide bike share program.
“It takes getting the money together to pay all of the filing and licensing fees. We’re renting a storage unit to work in, so funding-wise, it’s a little tough right now. We ended up with such an overload it got kind of scary for a minute,” he laughs.
The brothers, growing up low-income and watching their father “take a motorcycle that was in pieces in a basket and bring it home and put it together”, learned early that ‘new’ wasn’t an option and if they got a flat, “fix it.”
“My first bike was a Schwinn Stingray with no training wheels. I’d stand on a curb and run alongside it and jump on. I was four; my feet couldn’t touch the ground.”
In the early ‘90’s, hitting the streets of Sacramento on their rebuilt bikes, the brothers would head to a local dump to climb the 30-foot heap of discarded bikes and dig down to its treasures at the bottom.
“They wouldn’t crush it back then because there wasn’t an international buyer. We’d find 1940’s and ‘50’s Schwinns, or Free Spirits. The quality was way different, and we’d rebuild them and sell them.”
Today, one of their favorite reclaiming centers is Cascade Recycling in Grants Pass where they can sometimes find up to 15 bicycles set aside for them. Boyer says he is amazed by the amount of community effort to donate and participate.
“The real success is when we go drop off bikes and hear ‘they really love the bikes’, or, ‘yes, we need more bikes’.”
Options for Southern Oregon, a private, non-profit mental health agency, was one of the first recipients for the free bikes.
”Our employment works program is designed to help facilitate our clients in getting competitive employment,” shares Development Associate, Sarah Small. “Having reliable transportation is a huge need. If somebody is trying to get the treatment they need, or they can’t get to their appointments or job interviews, that directly affects their mental health.”
“Pretty much all of our spare time goes to this,” says Micah Boyer, who oversees a rescue mission kitchen and spends his after-hours at the shop. “A lot of the guys at the mission need bikes so it’s nice to hook them up.”
“The ultimate dream of this whole thing,” says Lonnie, “is to one day be able to teach repair classes, or have people come in and volunteer to work in exchange for a bike, maybe even in the long run becoming a community service option.”
To find out more you can reach Lonnie Boyer at (541) 660-3456 or Micah Boyer at (747)264-7822.