The creators of Bike Ride for the Homeless and local riders who have signed up for the event share similar goals: generate awareness of homelessness and raise funds to help.
After Carmen Brown, program director and morning show host for the Joy FM radio station, read a book about a homeless man — Same Kind of Different as Me, by Denver Moore and Ron Hall — she and her co-host, Dave Cruse, a biking enthusiast, decided to combine their passions into a biking event to benefit the homeless. They asked their listeners to find sponsors for a two-day, 120-mile bicycle ride within the station's range to raise money for various homeless ministries.
The ride began in Brooksville and ended in Sarasota. The first ride, last February, raised $30,000. This year's ride, set for Feb. 20 and 21, has a goal of $50,000.
"We feel that God calls us to be his hands and feet," said Karen Rutherford, office manager at the Joy FM and organizer of this year's event. "We as Christians need to spend ourselves in energy and time and money on the plight of the homeless and the hungry and help to satisfy that need. If we are to walk the walk and talk the talk, then we really need to reach out to these people and see them as individuals."
Several Hernando County residents are taking that admonition seriously.
Judy Pierce, a home health nurse, heard about last year's ride on the radio and decided to participate this year.
"I thought it would be so cool and that I'd give it a shot," she said. "I've had to buy three different bikes until I finally found the right one."
Pierce's sister, Nancy Pernini of Clearwater, will also participate. The two have been practicing for the last several weeks to increase their riding ability.
Pierce also needs to gather more donations. The minimum donation to participate is $250. She has about $100 more to go.
Pierce said it is people who are the least well off who have been contributing.
"I've gone to a doctor's office, a funeral home, a dentist's office and a chiropractor's office and received nothing," she said. "Then I went to a little children's consignment store. The woman hadn't had a customer all day. Her son had lost his job and was losing his home. But she gave $5."
Pierce has chosen Jericho Road Ministries as the charity she will help.
"Last year, they opened a shelter for women," she said. "So when they said you could pick where your money goes, I thought I'd raise money for them."
Eric Davis, an emergency room nurse, is riding for the benefit of Farming for Families, a new ministry that helps provide food to shelters and church food banks.
A member of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian's Men of Faith ministry in Brooksville, Davis is also concerned about the area's homeless.
"I hope it brings attention to the need of the homeless and that those of us who have will make an effort to give to those who don't have," he said. "My vision on the homeless has always been the downtrodden individual male under a bridge somewhere. But the reality is that there are families that are homeless and children that need our help. The Bible tells me that men are supposed to take care of the children — those that don't have."
Davis also has a personal reason for wanting to participate in the bike ride.
"I'm originally from Hillsborough County, and this ride actually takes me through 35 years of my life, past the home where I lived in Lutz, then past East Bay High School, where I went to school, past where my parents live in Sun City Center and then past the power plant at Parrish where my father worked," he said. "So it's a walk through memory lane, which is kind of cool."
Julie Kolb, who works in child support enforcement for the Florida Department of Revenue, will be riding for the benefit of the ministry she and her husband, Ron, launched in 2006.
Broken but Beautiful Ministries Inc. originally was called A Message and a Meal.
"I rode my bike around and saw a lot of homeless," Kolb said. "I asked one of them if he would like to have a Sunday service. He said he would and that he would gather people together and they would bring food. I told him we would provide the food. I felt so blessed from what I was receiving at church that I felt they should have the same opportunity."
Realizing that homeless people might feel uncomfortable in a church setting, she decided to take a service, and a meal, to them. Local ministers or Ron Kolb would deliver a Bible message, and the people would be offered a hot meal. The first dinner was on Hudson Beach. Later, a local restaurant offered the use of its building.
"We would also make up basic needs bags and fill them with toilet paper, socks and canned meat — with whatever we could purchase or was donated," she said. "It turned out to be really good because a lot of the homeless looked forward to hearing the message. Even though they were hungry for food, they were hungry for spiritual food as well."
The ministry has continued since and has worked with other local ministries, such as Love Your Neighbor. The Kolbs live on 5 acres, and a few of the homeless men have lived for a time on their property. Some have helped grow vegetables to assist with the feeding program.
"We have a vision and are hoping God will open the door to have a resource center," Kolb said. "It's not so much to offer housing, but a place where they can get a shower and get cleaned up and have a mailbox to use to get a job and use the telephone."
Kolb said she feels it is Christians' responsibility, rather than the government's, to help. She hopes the bike ride will generate enough money to continue to feed the homeless and to educate people about their plight.
"We're not really here to enable the homeless." Kolb said. "We're here to give them hope and to share Christ's love."