Archive for Thursday, December 9, 2004

Eudorans get in gear to bring bicycles to children in need

December 9, 2004

Driving past the Lansing Correctional Facility on Kansas Highway 5, it's easy to spot an enormous pile of bikes -- seemingly in every color and style, for every age.

Each Christmas for the past 14 years, inmates at the Lansing Correctional Facility have refurbished discarded or abandoned bicycles to be turned over to financially disadvantaged children. What began as a local bicycle-refurbishing program fixing fewer than eight bikes has grown to an area-wide event with more than 400 bikes going to needy children, in part because of help from Eudora volunteers.

In ceremonies Dec. 2 at the Lansing Community Center, bikes were given to representatives of 27 agencies from as far away as Topeka for distribution in their communities.

Some of those bikes came from Eudora donors through local volunteers. Bob Slapar of the Eudora Lions Club said the group took about 75 bicycles to be refurbished, and Barb and Carl Tuttle of Eudora contributed bikes as well.

"You can't believe how many old bicycles they have up there to be worked over," Slapar said. "They will be busy, I'm sure. They'll have plenty to do all year."

About 15 years ago, the Lansing Police Department began the program by using confiscated and found bikes that had become department property. Lansing City Administrator Mike Smith, who was police chief when the program started, said it began with giving away three or four bikes locally until the prison warden became involved.

"And then the last five years it's just been..." Smith said, gesturing to indicate massive growth.

The Lansing Correctional Facility's Christmas Bike Giveaway program began officially in 1999. Lansing Correctional Facility Warden David McKune said a core group of a dozen inmates worked on the program regularly, and several other men work on the project periodically.

What was a 25-bike operation in 1999 has grown to more than 450 bikes, he said.

"It was very small at first," McKune said. "It's just gotten big. All the staff is just so excited about it."

Instead of using confiscated bikes, the program now relies on volunteers like those from Eudora, who collect unwanted bicycles from community members and turn them over to the Lansing Correctional Facility's workshop.

That workshop has grown from a small basement to the bottom halves of two buildings. The bikes used for parts are now stacked as high as the buildings in which the inmates work.

The program gives away bikes in June and December. In June, about 200 were given away, McKune said, and more will be handed out this month. Lansing City Clerk Karen Logan said organizers were able to get several popular bikes, like Mongoose bikes, to distribute.

"We did get some neat bikes this year," Logan said. "The kids that we're giving them to ought to like them."

However, Slapar said his group didn't bring any bikes back to Eudora to distribute locally.

"We're having so much trouble finding who might need bikes," he said.

That was in part because of privacy issues that make it difficult to identify children in the Eudora schools' free and reduced lunch program, he said.

"I hope we can give some of them away," Slapar said. "It really makes it hard to run the program if you can't find out who some of these people are."

Slapar said volunteers hoped to have bicycles in time to give away Dec. 17 with distribution of the Mayor's Christmas Tree fund baskets.

Yet getting the bikes proved easier, Slapar said. Because of the hefty response, volunteers are having to take down promotional signs and asked to stop running items in The Eudora News asking for bikes. Slapar said he picked up six more bikes as recently as Monday.

Similarly, McKune doesn't think the program's growth will stop.

"The biggest program we have now is finding the space," McKune said. "We've got the time, we've got the desire, we've got the supplies, we've got the support."

-- Contributing: Erinn R. Barcomb

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