SPRING HILL — Bob Sieczkowski was traveling along Spring Hill Drive several years ago when he saw a bicycle lying along the side of the road. It had been spray-painted gold and abandoned. He decided to fix it up and donate it to someone in need.
Soon, Sieczkowski began collecting more abandoned bikes and restoring them to their original condition. He donated them to People Helping People, a multidenominational organization that serves local homeless people, so they could be given to those in need of transportation.
"After a while, People Helping People introduced me to the bike ministry at Grace Presbyterian Church," said Sieczkowski, 63. "I've been involved with them for about four years now."
It was a great match. The church had begun repairing donated bicycles to provide them to needy children and adults in 1998. Even though he belongs to a different church, Sieczkowski joined the small group of age 60-plus men who spent their Wednesday mornings repairing the bikes behind the church. Last year, Sieczkowski was put in charge of the ministry, under the oversight of church member Mel Tuck.
"We replace seats, handlebars, tires, inner tubes and cables," Sieczkowski said. "If a wheel is bent, which happens quite often, we have means of straightening the wheels out."
Most of the bikes are donated by church members. Some need chains, seats, shifters and reflectors, as well as general cleaning and lubrication. The cost for the repairs is covered by the church budget and donations from a variety of sources.
"Specific members of the church have supported the ministry throughout the years, and the church has made it a part of our mission of giving ever since its inception," said the Rev. Keith Posehn, who learned about the ministry when he became the church's pastor two years ago. "It's a fabulous ministry to folks that either can't drive or can't afford to drive who are looking for a means of transportation. I think it's one of the nicest and most effective ministries of any church I've been involved in."
The last time a tally was taken was a couple of years ago. But by then, the ministry had donated more than 1,800 bicycles to the needy.
"We donate about 50 to 60 a year, I would guess," Sieczkowski said. "Toward the end of last year, we ended up giving Jericho Road Ministries 24 or 25 bikes within a two-week span. We had a bunch of bikes in excess, and they were an outlet that could use the bikes for people in need."
The Dawn Center, Joseph's House and the American Legion have also been recipients of the refurbished bikes. Many of the children's bikes go to BayCare, a center that works with children who have behavioral problems. Church members also let the ministry know of individuals with transportation needs.
Sieczkowski said he has come to be known as "Bicycle Bob" in his neighborhood.
"I'm retired, and it gives me something to do," he said. "My wife spent her last four years in a nursing home and passed away last year just before Christmas. It helped keep my mind off of her."
Sieczkowski considers his labors to be a ministry.
"I have my own card that I made up that says 'Big Bob's Bicycle Ministry.' On it, I list the Grace Presbyterian Church," he said. "I donate my time, and they donate the funds for the parts or special tools that I need. And I teach other people how to fix bikes, as well."