Bike drive changes hundreds of lives in Connecticut

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What do you do when customers continue to ask if they can drop off bikes to donate? If you’re the teams at the REI stores in Norwalk, Milford and West Hartford, Connecticut, you go out and find some awesome partners in the community and hold a bike drive.

Mason Trumble, Outdoor Programs and Experiences Market Coordinator for Hartford and New Haven, helped get the first Connecticut bike drive started in 2017. “We found two great partners and decided to make it a state-wide thing,” he explains. They created an event that made it easy for members to drop off bikes at REI. The community partner co-ops fix up the donated bikes and match them to people who could use them for safe and healthy transportation.

Bike Drive partner Bradley Street Bike Co-op in New Haven, gets bikes to people who cannot afford them. “We specifically focus on adults and job access. In our part of the state, bikes are a very important form of transportation,” says director John Martin.  “Cars are prohibitively expensive, buses are often late or don't go to the right place, and the train suffers from both problems. Bikes are incredibly cheap, and getting a bike to a refugee being served at Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services who landed one week ago, or a low income mental health patient at Connecticut Mental Health Center, or a young man who just out of prison working at Emerge, changes lives every day.”

Father and daughter making a donation

“People can get to the grocery store quicker, get to their job without being late, and save thousands of dollars a year by not owning a car,” John continues. “And when you are only making thousands of dollars a year, that matters.” He also points to the beneficial mental and physical effects of riding a bike. “We know that our climate is changing, and our consumption is at the root of the problem. Moving around your town or city on a used bike is about as low-impact as we can be. And we think that riding bikes is fun!”

Other bike drive partners include BiCiCo, part of the Center for Latino Progress in Hartford. It provides opportunities to improve youth and adult safety and sustainable transportation through youth programs, mechanics classes, job training and bicycles. Bici is short for bicicleta (bicycle) and Co. stands for comunidad (community). Northeast Community Cycles, serving Fairfield County, CT supplies free, refurbished bicycles, along with a new helmet, to underprivileged children and adults.

The first drive was held in May 2017, to coincide with Bike Month. “We thought we’d get five or ten bike donations,” says Mason. They ended up with 100. “Members were super generous and appreciative,” he continues, noting that most of the donations were high quality nice bikes, with only a few junkers.

The stories that came with the bikes were heartwarming. One member brought in a bike that he used to trek across the country while in college. Another donated the bike of a spouse who had passed away, hoping that it could be given to someone who could use it.

John’s favorite stories are when a bike donation turns someone into a regular visitor and volunteer at the Bradley Street Bike Co-op. “We believe in diverse and fun spaces, and act both as a bicycle co-op and a community center. We love that our space is filled with people working side by side with those who got bikes from us, which is often the case many days of the week.” John remembers giving a bike to a woman experiencing homelessness last fall. Through the winter, John would often see her at City Hall meetings and hearings and say hi. “I know that bike ownership had little to do with her want to be there - that was entirely self made - but her bike locked up outside humbly helped her get to each meeting, and probably saved her some time and (hopefully) put a smile on her face in the process.”

Employees from the West Hartford REI with the truckload of donations

Now in its third year, the response to the drive continues to grow. “It’s been amazing. People really care,” says Mason. “Our members are very generous and eager to join us in our philanthropy.” This year’s drive will be held in April to coincide with the Bike Sale.

Mason offers the following advice to any store considering a bike drive. “The number one thing that made this successful was finding the right nonprofits that are super engaged in the local community,” he says. “They are organized, involved and able to draw from a pool of volunteers.” The organizations also need to be able to cross-promote with REI. “The message is really powerful when it comes from multiple channels.”

Overall, Mason believes that the bike drive is a great example of an authentic way to ask our members to partner with us in giving back. “They are looking for ways to do that,” he says. “I personally was blown away by the generosity. It didn’t cost us anything other than a little social media. The payback is huge.” He hopes this story will inspire others to hold bike drives, or go for something bigger. “I think it would be fun to do a national bike drive!”

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