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Local News

Bici Centro Works to Match Up Two Dozen Kids with Free Bikes for Christmas

Thanks to a volunteer's initiative, Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition embarks on gift project for needy children

About two dozen young children on Santa Barbara's Lower Eastside will get a bit of Christmas cheer this year, if Christine Bourgeois and volunteers at Bici Centro get their way.

They're aiming to give out 27 bikes to young children, ages 3 to 10, who otherwise might not be receiving any gifts.

Bici Centro, 506 E. Haley St., is a program under the leadership of the nonprofit Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, and hosts open workshop hours when cyclists can come in to learn how to repair and maintain their own bikes.

The group has become indispensable to those who use their bicycles as their only transportation, and has done extensive outreach in low-income and Latino communities.

This year, a volunteer, who wished to remain anonymous for this story, came to Bourgeois with an idea to fix up children's bikes and donate them to those who might not get any gifts.

The volunteer, a successful local engineer, told Bourgeois his own story about growing up in a poor family in the San Joaquin Valley. He recalled that he often was ashamed to return to school after winter break because he wasn't able to share in the "What did you get for Christmas?" conversations.

He and Bourgeois, who is the organization's education director, decided to host Bici's first "Bike 4 Christmas," in hopes that it will become an annual event involving more partners and volunteers to fulfill the bicycle dreams of many young children.

Since then, Bourgeois has been coordinating with the Franklin Neighborhood Center to identify families who might need the bikes the most. She came up with a list of 27 families and is hopeful of having bikes to give to all of them.

The City of Santa Barbara also stepped up to provide helmets for the children.

On Saturday, the coalition will be giving out the bikes as well as hosting a bilingual safety presentation that will cover road etiquette and helmet fitting for the children.

"It's taking a lot of work, but the good thing is we get good help from different groups," Bourgeois said.

For example, Santa Barbara High School's bike club gathered last week to work on the bikes, making small repairs, putting on new seats, chains or whatever they needed to be ready for their new owners.

At Bici Centro, "we don't buy bikes," Bourgeois said, and the group is committed to redistributing donated bikes and parts to the public.

The group smartly partnered with officials at Santa Barbara County landfills, where they discovered many kids bikes were being dumped.

Because children outgrow bikes so quickly, many times they just get thrown away, even though they may be in perfect shape, Bourgeois said.

"There were tons of kids bikes," she said, and although some were unusable because they were in such bad shape, many were almost brand new.

Any parents shopping for a new bike for their children should keep Bici Centro in mind if they want to donate their child's gently used bike to the shop, Bourgeois said.

"If some families have unused bikes, bring them to us," she said. "We could definitely give those bikes away to needy families who will be so excited to have them."

Bourgeois said she sees the potential of growth for the giveaway, although the group will need more volunteers and financial support.

"My vision is that I'd like to make it bigger for next year," she said. "I'd love to do it on the Eastside and the Westside. There are so many families who don't have anything at Christmas."

Click here for more information about volunteering at Bici Centro, or to make an online donation.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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