For the past two summers, a group of volunteers collaborate with the Wilton Police Department to generate a bicycle collection and refurbishment to support the Wilton Family YMCA branch of the Riverbrook YMCA‘s “Race For Chase” program. The town generously makes an impact in the lives of dozens of at-risk children from Norwalk, by donating just as many bicycles and other important summer supplies for the program.

The heartwarming experience is actually an expansion of a similar winter refurbish session called Wheels for Kids, an annual holiday season program that has taken root in the area over the last 10 years. Spearheaded by a small group of current and former Cannondale Bicycles employees, the effort involves collecting and refurbishing kids bicycles and distributing them to needy children in Danbury through a seasonal event called Santa’s Workshop.

Now Wilton has another opportunity to make a change in the world, and all it takes is–you guessed it, a bicycle.

Wilton plays a very important role, and organizers are hoping that Wilton will once again help out. Wilton resident Dave Cote, a former Cannondale Bicycles employee, has been very involved with the Wheels for Kids program, as has Kevin Kane, a current Cannondale Bicycles employee who recently moved to Wilton from Norwalk. Both help coordinate the effort and will provide their Wilton houses as drop-off locations for people to donate bicycles.

“It is amazing to me how the Wilton community truly embraces both the summer and the winter refurbish sessions,” says Kane. “The bikes that have been donated over the years by Wilton residents are fantastic.”

Each year, the group–with the help of a handful of volunteers–refurbishes between 50-100 donated bicycles.

Both describe the effort as one that has allowed this group of longtime bike enthusiasts and close friends to be able to help good bikes get to a new home of a child who might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn to love riding a bicycle.

David Campbell, Cote and Kane’s friend and colleague, leads the effort, and he says it’s part of the holiday spirit of helping your neighbor–with so much more that kids who wouldn’t typically be able to afford a bicycle will benefit from.

“If you can just get kids on bikes, it’s getting to know your neighborhood. I remember getting the green light from my parents to ride my bike to school. Now everyone spends all their life in the back seat. I like that aspect, and the green part of it too,” he says.

He describes a pretty emotional scene where the bicycles are given out. Santa’s Workshop is a seasonal Danbury event each December. People line up starting at 5-6 a.m., waiting for Santa to arrive at 9 a.m. via a Danbury fire truck. People are admitted to meet Santa and pick out gifts, and one choice kids can make is a bike. If a bike is what they choose, they’re brought outside to the refurbished bicycles where volunteers will size and fit the child to a bike, size and fit a new helmet (which is free, and included) and the parent will sign a release.

“I would say 1,000 people show up, and there are tables set up with so many different things. There are also tables with coats, and hats and typical coat drive stuff. It’s a focal point for donation before the holidays. I’ve seen kids in 15-20 degree weather wearing sweatshirt and slippers in the coat line. Those people are not buying bicycles, and if they do, they’re not buying a $29 helmet because that’s half the food budget. Having that kid smile when he gets a bicycle is even more valuable,” Campbell says.

So how can you help?  Here’s what’s needed:

  • Bicycles:  The key part of the effort is to collect as many bicycles as possible. What’s needed are kids’ bikes for age 6-12, generally. Most kids who benefit from this are in the 8-10 year old range (but organizers say toddler bikes and even big wheels are welcome).
  • Volunteer Bike Mechanics:  On Friday, Dec. 6, volunteers are needed to help get the bikes in shape. They need to be cleaned (good enough to look almost brand-new), and repaired. This takes place at Shepard’s Moving and Storage in Bethel. Bike mechanics should be minimum 15 years old, with some good basic bike repair skills. Email Kevin Kane for more information.
  • Volunteer Helpers at Santa’s Workshop:  On Saturday, Dec. 21, volunteer to assist a child/parent with selecting a bike for them to take as a gift. You’ll help kids pick a bicycle that fits them, making minor seat and handlebar adjustments to make sure it fits, and then fit each child with a helmet. The minimum age for this is 13 years old. This takes place at Dorothy Day Hospitality House in Danbury in the morning, and is primarily outside, rain or shine. Email Kevin Kane for more information.

The Cote and Kane families have volunteered to let their houses be drop-off points for donated bicycles, at 10 Oak Ledge Ln., or 69 Range Rd.–both are off of Wolfpit Rd.. Bicycles will be accepted through noon on Dec. 6. Leave bikes in the driveway against the stone wall. Don’t worry about dust, dirt, dropped chains, or flat tires–Santa’s elves will repair it all.