Every good parent wants to put a smile on their child’s face during the holidays. They want to see them run into the living room, they want to see them open up their present and they want to hear the happily-screamed words “Awesome! Thanks Mom!” as the child stares wide-eyed at that one big gift.
For families stressing out over the rising costs of daily life and worrying about if they can get their child that single, precious moment, four local organizations have worked hard to relieve those concerns with a program called Bicycles from Heaven.
Why? Bikes aren’t cheap.
The program, which takes used bikes and refurbishes them, is run by the Salvation Army Grays Harbor Corps, Aberdeen Lions Club, Stafford Creek Corrections Center and the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport.
Mike Barkstrom, a longtime Aberdeen Lions Club member, explains how the program works.
“We get bicycles from all over the county,” Barkstrom said. “The inmates refurbish these bicycles. We pay a stipend for that. They learn a trade and the recipients get a new bike.”
Through the years, the program has given away “an excess of 3,000 bicycles,” according to Barkstrom. The program can provide anywhere from bicycles with training wheels for young children, up to mountain bikes for teens. But parents need to provide the helmets, which are much encouraged for safe riding.
“Normally, in a year’s time, we’ll give out 150 to 250 bicycles,” Barkstrom said.
The one hiccup this year is there hasn’t been much turnout yet and Christmas is fewer than three weeks away. This program is ready to give the bikes away.
They just need people to sign a short application, which includes the applicant’s name, physical and mailing address, phone number, child’s height, style of bike needed plus a signature. And there is no cost.
“That’s what we’re looking for. We want to give away the bikes,” Barkstrom said. “They don’t do us any good just sitting there.”
Barkstrom, a grandfather himself, knows how special it is to see the joy in a child’s face.
“I’ve gotta say this, there’s nothing that’s as exciting to us Lions as seeing a kid walk in and we say to them ‘go pick out your bike,’” Barkstrom said. “And there’s 60 bikes there and they’re on overload. They go pick out that bike and then they just go crazy riding it. It’s absolutely wonderful.”
But as Kim Gilbert, service center coordinator for Salvation Army Grays Harbor Corps, explained, some parents would rather surprise their children.
“There are other parents that are like ‘I’m really struggling. This is gonna be a big present for birthday or Christmas,’” Gilbert said. “So they come and pick it out themselves.”
“What we try to do is accommodate the recipients as best we can and make it an easy experience for them,” Barkstrom said. “We just want to make it where they can get a bike and they’re happy and their kids are happy.”
Gilbert can attest to how easy the program is for families. She signed up for Bicycles from Heaven last year for her daughter, who needed a larger bike.
“She loves it. She absolutely loves her bike,” Gilbert said with a beaming smile on her face. “She rides it all over Hoquiam and Aberdeen. It was great because it was her first big kid bike. It’s a mountain bike so it’s got exchangeable gears.”
Picture that moment. Wind in your face, laughing at a joke told by a friend riding beside you and your new Schwinn as you head for ice cream at Buddy Moo’s on the first sunny day of summer. What a memory. And all it takes to get that bike is a few pen strokes.
Barkstrom said many happy family moments come to mind because of Bicycles from Heaven. But he told one story in particular.
“I can remember a family of five who came here,” Barkstrom said. “The parents were really struggling. We got them five bikes. You couldn’t believe how happy all these kids were.”
And it’s not a one-shot deal either. There is no, “well, we have in our records that Sarah got a bike four years ago, so sorry.” If the child outgrew their bike they can return it and get a new one. That’s what the Gilberts did. They had two old bikes, returned them and got the new one last year.
And as Barkstrom pointed out, there is no sign that they’re from an organization. That helps remove the negative stigma associated with needing help.
And one available tandem bike should interest Seattle Seahawks fans because it’s covered in the team’s iconic blue and neon green colors and team decals.
To put it simply, sign up and help people like Barkstrom and Gilbert get your children a bike. It’s a child’s passport to adventure.
“Just to see a smile on a kid’s face is so special,” Barkstrom said.
In order to sign up, there are numerous ways: Contact the Grays Harbor Salvation Army page on Facebook, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, send a text or call 360-533-1062, or come down to the Salvation Army — 215 N. G St., in Aberdeen on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., and pick up an application.