For children, bikes represent a means of independent travel and a toy that offers a sense of freedom. For the homeless, they can provide a lifeline to jobs, medical care and basic survival.
Mariposa Community Services in Ontario recognizes the importance of these vehicles to many of its clients and has launched a Bike Outreach campaign.
"For about a year now, I have been working on this outreach program. We gave away 36 bikes last year and will give even more away this year. Along with the bikes, we provide bike tubes, bike locks, help with repairs and other needed parts when necessary. We also keep an air pump at our office for quick air fill-ups," said Connie Parra, Mariposa Community Services executive director.
The campaign started when a client told Mariposa personnel that he could find work if he only had a way of getting there. A bike would help. Parra said she sent out a quick email and it worked. Bikes, both used and new, were donated.
Now there is an ongoing waiting list of 25 people who would love to have a bike and the life-altering possibilities it could offer.
A recent email blast was successful. Five people promised and delivered on donating good working used bikes. An interested man with connections to bike manufacturer Huffy got Mariposa in touch with the company which has offered to let the Ontario nonprofit buy its new 2013 Granite 26-inch 15-speed Mountain bikes for $50. Again, Parra used social media to get the word out, and she already has commitments from complete strangers who want to buy 10 bikes and donate them.
"This is so awesome and the Lord is touching hearts here in a huge way. People are wanting to be involved. It is our goal to give everyone on our list a bike and to be ready to provide bikes for those who are adding their names to our list daily," Parra said.
Huffy said there is no limit to the number the nonprofit can purchase. They are shipped to Carson and must be picked up at a warehouse there. They arrive at the Mariposa Community Services office, donated space at the First United Methodist Church on Euclid Avenue, brand-spanking new but assembly is required. Parra said she's received offers from volunteers willing to put them together.
"We would love to open this up to the public and offer the community an opportunity to be a part of what the Lord is doing through us here in making a difference in lives. We better together and if the word gets out that we need good used bikes and would accept donations of $50 for the new Huffy bikes we would be able to help more people and help them sooner," she said.
Parra said she is both thrilled and humbled at the response from the community.
"This just seems to be blossoming and we are very grateful, but this will be an ongoing effort because we have hundreds of homeless people locally who could benefit. Bikes can make such a difference. When they are given one, it has a huge impact on their lives," she said.
Mariposa Community Services helps the local homeless population in various ways.
It has three programs. The Loaves and Fishes project began back in 2005 as a means of feeding those in need. Today, 16 churches take turns hosting Friday night meals.
The nonprofit also oversees the New Hope Project, which provides clothing and basic essentials, and Agape Housing, which tries to find housing and shelter.
For more information about Bike Outreach, call Parra Monday through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Bikes can be dropped off or arrangements for pickups made.