By Carol Graham
On December 7th, one local boy received an early Christmas gift he’ll likely never forget.
“He didn’t say a word, but boy, did he smile from ear to ear!” said Cathy Griggs, co-chair of the Tri-Valley chapter of TurningWheels for Kids (TWFK). “His mom kept saying how grateful she was and what a merry Christmas this was for her and her son because of what we did for them.”
What Griggs and 250 other volunteers did was to participate in TWFK’s annual Big Bike Build at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. By 1:30 p.m., they’d built 500 bicycles that were ready to be picked up by pre-selected charities.
“We identified charities within Alameda and Contra Costa counties that help underserved youth, and invited them to apply for bikes,” said Griggs. “We always receive requests for more bikes than we have to give away, but each charity is grateful for the bikes we give them to distribute to the families they serve.”
Since its inception in 2005,TWFK has given more than 13,000 bicycles to children who may have had “to experience Christmas without any cool and exciting gifts,” said founder and Santa Clara County nurse Susan Runsvold, who recalls having shared that fear as a youngster.
Yet the benefits of owning a bicycle go beyond just making Christmas merrier. “Bikes can be life changing,” said Griggs, who started the non-profit organization’s Tri-Valley Chapter in 2011. “For little kids, it’s a fun way to get exercise. As they’re playing in their neighborhood, they are learning a lifestyle of activity rather than just sitting in front of the computer or TV. For older children and youth, a bike is freedom and transportation. It allows a young person to get to school on time, to go to a friend’s house and even to get a job.”
Throughout the year, TWFK raises funds from individual donors and corporate sponsors including Therma, DPR Construction, the Safeway Foundation, and the Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation. Along with financial support, the First Presbyterian Church in Livermore provides space for TWFK meetings and repair clinics.
“We know that for the kids we serve, a flat tire or loose chain means the bike is going to sit in the garage since their family can’t afford to get it fixed,” said Griggs. “We offer free repair clinics to get kids back on their bikes.”
Additionally, TWFK donates bicycles throughout the year to youth fighting obesity which enables children to have a fun, inexpensive way to exercise, while the Tri-Valley chapter also partners with the Livermore Homeless Refuge by repairing used bikes that the Refuge distributes.
“The moms and dads of the kids we serve are working hard to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads,” said Griggs. “The children are very appreciative and can’t believe we would give them a bike, or fix their bike for free. ‘Really, it’s my bike? To keep forever?’ is something we hear often.”
As for the volunteers who participated in this year’s Big Bike Build, the only concern heard was that they wish they had more bikes to build.
“Although we built 500 bikes this year, and that is a LOT of bikes, the need is so much greater,” said co-chair Rich Sims. “We had requests for over twice as many bikes as we could provide. We are limited only by our budget. ”
Griggs noted that for less than $10 a month, individuals can provide a bicycle and a helmet for a child.
“My favorite memory of the Big Bike Build was seeing that young boy get his bike and watching him learn to ride it,” she added. “His smile reminded me that 500 more children and youth will have the joy of a new bike this Christmas because of what we’ve done.”
For more information, email cathy@ or rich@ turningwheelsforkids.org.