The old bike with flat tires and a rusty chain that's rested in your garage for the last few years will soon have a place to go. Downtown Church is partnering with Fast Forward and Cycle Center to refurbish donated bicycles in order to provide transportation for formerly homeless veterans. Fast Forward serves homeless veterans in Columbia with job training and placement services. For a long time Columbia's bus system provided a reliable means of transportation for their clients to get to work. But as residents of Columbia know, the bus system doesn't stretch as far or as wide as it once did. Due to a number of related problems that led to a lack of public funding, the bus routes have been significantly decreased making it almost impossible to get from one side of the city to another without a car.
Dee Albritton, the Fast Forward director, told me that some of her clients walk miles between the closest bus stop and the front door of their employer. If only the vets had a bike to get them from the bus to work? Dee knows that I cycle and when she received a donation of 5 busted bikes she called to see what we could do. It would have been simple enough to get them fixed, but we might have missed out on an even greater and more lasting commitment if we hurried to meet the short term need. So, I told her we couldn't help with the 5 bikes she was storing in someone's garage but we would consider creating a permanent initiative at our church to receive donated bikes and do the basic repairs to make them safe and serviceable.
Our first call was to John Green the owner of Cycle Center in five points. He is a friend of mine and an arch nemesis of my wife. I've spent a small fortune on carbon fiber in his shop and the wife likes to remind me that I can only ride one of my four bikes at a time. "Duh and that's not the point" is my comeback.
John and the Cycle Center are going to train volunteers at our church in basic bike repair. His shop will also serve as a drop-off point for donated bikes and help offset some of the cost for parts and repair equipment.
Just yesterday we found some storage space and a place to do the repairs. Our little free bike shop that will start as a service to Fast Forward clients and perhaps grow to serve other organizations in the city will be called the Re-run Bicycle Emporium. It's not an answer to homelessness or a fix for the bus system, but it's one way that we, a church with too many bikes and a surprising number of cyclists, can leverage our unique gifts to meet a present need.
You'll be hearing more about it in the coming weeks, but if you're interested in helping now or in the future send me a note through the contact form.