County Christmas Bike Distribution in its 13th Year

bikes-payson-forwebEach December, Gila County Recycling & Landfill Management presents the community with nearly 150 better-than-new, refurbished bikes, which get distributed to families in need throughout the county. A thirteen-year-long tradition, each bike giveaway represents a year’s worth of work by county staff, community members, and inmate laborers. As soon as the bikes are gone each year, the work starts again.

The bike program began 13 years ago at the prison in Globe with bikes collected at the landfill and funding from both the landfill and prison. Since then, Gila County has rebuilt and donated almost 1,300 bikes. The program was nearly eliminated in 2009 because of safety concerns around having bike parts at the prison. However, Gila County Public Works stepped up to save the program, providing a bike workshop space at Russell Gulch Landfill.

bikes-1 for webAt the bike shop, two “bike expert” inmates, hired by the landfill for fifty cents an hour, work all year long to rebuild bikes. The inmate bike crew staff has changed many times as their sentences have ended, but the program continues as new workers are trained. Sharon Winters, Recycling and Landfill Manager for Gila County, says that being able to give back to children in the community can be very meaningful for the inmates involved in the bike program, many of whom leave behind families while they’re incarcerated. Winters says that this will be the third Christmas for one member of the bike crew who hopes to finish out his sentence working in the bike shop. The bike shop workers are constantly updating a bulletin board with their inventory, always striving to have an equal number of boys and girls bikes and an equal number of the various sizes.

The bikes are re-painted and given new seats, tires, tubes, and handgrips. The bikes used in the program are collected at the landfill and donated by members of the public and local businesses. The landfill supports the bike program financially using their proceeds from selling recyclable materials.

Winters has a long list of favorite moments related to the bike program, but one that sticks out is one year when a last-minute request came in for a bike for a young boy. Winters remembers that because of the boy’s circumstances at the time, he did not expect to get a bike. The bike shop workers went above and beyond for this child’s bike. They even painted his name on it. “It was something just for him,” remembers Winters. “I just felt like he was one child who was going to believe in the magic of Christmas.”

Winters ensures that the finished bikes make their way all across Gila County from Pine/Strawberry down to Hayden/Winkelman and over to Young. The bikes are distributed by various organizations throughout Gila County such as schools, town halls, fire and police departments, the San Carlos Tribal Chairman’s Office, the Knights of Columbus in Globe, Community Kids, and the Time Out Shelter for Domestic Violence.“We remember every community in Gila County. Every single community is given an opportunity for the bikes,” she says.

Winters and Gila County Public Works extend their thanks to the following donors and community partners, without whom the bike program would not be possible: Mick Wolf at Certified Bicycle in Payson, Almost New Thrift Store, the Nurses Auxiliary, Todd Bramlet, Capstone, Gila County’s Injury Prevention Program, Peter Lesch at NAPA, Gila County Signs Department, Department of Corrections, the Gila County Board of Supervisors, and the many public safety departments throughout Gila County.