TAMPA — Salt-N-Pepa’s Push It echoed through Amalie Arena as volunteers tightened pedals, twisted bolts and inflated tires on bicycles destined for Christmas wish-lists around Tampa Bay.
More than 1,100 people volunteered Friday to build 900 bikes for children in need this holiday season as part of Santa’s Bike Shop.
The event, organized by local nonprofit Onbikes, is a collection of 26 well-oiled assembly lines. Volunteers from city government, local businesses and corporate sponsors huddled around tables and built bikes of varying sizes throughout the afternoon.
Tampa Bay Lightning mascot Thunderbug rode around the arena floor on a bike while music played and PDQ handed out lunch. A craft area, candy buffet and hot cocoa station kept kids and volunteers fueled throughout.
The bikes will be donated to groups like the Children’s Cancer Center, Metropolitan Ministries, Tampa Police Department and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Those organizations distribute the bikes to families in need and children whose wish is a new bike.
“It’s not just about the gift, it’s about the impact,” Onbikes co-founder Julius Tobin said. “It’s the ability to get to football practice, to the Boys & Girls Clubs, to your first job interview.”
Tobin shared stories about some of the kids eagerly awaiting a bicycle. One 9-year-old in foster care repeatedly asks about his bike from home.
“He misses it terribly,” a request from a caregiver said. “Having a bike would go a long way to helping him feel more at home in his foster placement."
Another child has been in and out of foster care for four years. Two years ago, his father told a caregiver to help him pick out a bike and put it on layaway. But Christmas came and went and no bike arrived. To this day, the young boy has yet to own a bike of his own.
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Officer Levi Newton knows what it’s like to knock on a family’s door and present them with a new bike for a child who otherwise wouldn’t have one.
Newton joined Tampa Police Department’s Bike Squad in 2015. He has been part of the bike build ever since, helping hand out hundreds of bikes to kids over the years.
“If we’re able to give someone a bike and fill that void, they’re super joyful,” Newton said. “They’re jumping up and down and hugging mom. It makes their Christmas.”
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Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and her dog, Alcaldesa, came to Amalie to help kick off the event. Castor, who cycles regularly and has worked to improve the bike network in the city, said the donations go a long way in providing both transportation and joy during the holiday season.
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“This is so exciting to see our community come together," Castor said. “They’ll be a form of transportation for some of our citizens, but more importantly they’ll be under that Christmas tree on Christmas morning and make a lot of young kids’ Christmases.”
Elizabeth Reedy-Foley, CEO of Frameworks of Tampa Bay, volunteered with seven coworkers during the event’s first shift. The bike build seemed a natural fit for Frameworks, Reedy-Foley said. The nonprofit is dedicated to youth emotional and social development and has partnered with Onbikes in the past.
Reedy-Foley has seen the joy these bikes can bring to a family. Frameworks raffled off two bikes at a family literacy event at Broward Elementary earlier this year. Reedy-Foley was standing near a mother when her fourth-grade daughter’s name was drawn.
“That was her first bike and her mom was overjoyed,” Reedy-Foley said. “When you see that, it touches your heart. I’m so happy to be here. We all are.”
Shea Quraishi, 34, of Frameworks said it was a chance for her and her colleagues to help the kids they serve daily in another way.
“Our organization is all about emotional intelligence,” Quraishi said. “This is a chance to practice what we preach and think about all of the impacts these bikes will have, even if we never see it.”
If you go
The Bike Build precedes Onbikes’ 9th Annual Winter Wonder Ride, an event that cycles through downtown Tampa and along Bayshore Boulevard and funds the purchase of bicycles and helmets for at-risk kids. The event is at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at Curtis Hixon Park. Tickets start at $55 and can be purchased at www.onbikes.org.