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Tools of Empowerment: 'Recycle Your Bicycle' Program Celebrates 10th Anniversary



Photo for: Tools of Empowerment:

(Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)

Of the 88 bikes donated to the Forest Preserve District’s “Recycle Your Bicycle” program this spring, one was extra special.

The used bike had a note attached that read: “To whoever gets this bicycle … I hope it brings you as much joy and enjoyment to you as it did me. God bless!”

That one hand-written note summarizes the generous spirit that has kept this unique Forest Preserve program rolling for 10 years. Since 2011, more than 1,000 bikes have been donated to be reused by others who are in need.

All the bikes are given to Chicago-based Working Bikes, which arranges restoration so the bikes can be redistributed locally and around the world to people who are in need of a mode of transportation. Also, some of the bicycles are sold through the Working Bikes shop to fund the donation project.

Working Bikes considers the refurbished bikes as “tools of empowerment” for local and global communities.

"The bikes collected through the Forest Preserve have changed lives, both here in Chicagoland and around the world," said Trevor Clarke, executive director of Working Bikes. "Internationally, bikes are used on trips to schools, to markets, to jobs, to healthcare resources, and turn journeys of hours on foot into dozens of minutes on two wheels."

He said the local donations are similar in that they give people who need access to community resources a mode of transportation when they can't afford one on their own.

"Without the generosity of the bicycle donors and the work the Forest Preserve does to gather unused bicycles, the mission of Working Bikes – to give donated bicycles new life by redistributing them as tools of empowerment in local and global communities – would not be possible," he explained.

(Photo by Angie Opiola)

'Super excited'

The Forest Preserve's program started out with the police giving bikes to local children, but after a few years, the relationship began with Working Bikes and the pattern was set. Each spring and fall, the Forest Preserve District urges people who have unused bikes in their garages – no matter what the condition – to donate them to a good cause. Bikes are collected at the Forest Preserve's Monee Reservoir in Monee Township.

“Working Bikes has been so great to work with and they are very appreciative of the donations,” said Bob Bryerton, a program coordinator who oversaw “Recycle Your Bicycle” for several years.

“They are always super excited when they come to pick up the bikes, and they are so knowledgeable about the types of bikes and the different models and styles by year. The relationship with Working Bikes has been really great and definitely a win-win for both organizations.”

Forest Preserve staff also look forward to seeing what kind of bike donations will roll in each year, Bryerton added.

The Forest Preserve coordinates with Working Bikes on how many bikes have been donated and how big of a truck is needed to transport them.

“They are masters at configuring the bikes so the handlebars and pedals don't take up too much space,” Bryerton said of Working Bikes. “It is always incredible to help with the loading as they all get packed in the truck."

Dozens of bikes are donated each year.

“I guess a lot of people grow out of their bikes or get new ones,” Bryerton said

(Photo by Chad Merda)

Heartfelt donations

Angie Opiola, a program coordinator at Monee Reservoir, now oversees the program. She said 88 bikes were collected this spring for a total 1,046 bikes since 2011.

“There are always so many bikes because people feel good about donating them to the Working Bikes cause,” Opiola said.

The note attached to the recently donated bike shows how giving away something you once valued is a very heartfelt activity, Opiola said. 

“People feel they are giving away a little of their past with the bikes," she added.

Erin Ward, a Forest Preserve program coordinator who set up the relationship with Working Bikes in the early days of the program, said the goal is to give bikes to the people who need them.

“Partnering with ‘Working Bikes’ is pretty amazing,” she said. “They take everything! Bikes, bike parts, wheels, seats – everything. They fix up the bikes and give them to people in need all over the world. I was super proud to be a part of the program.”

And even though the "Recycle Your Bicycle" program wasn't held in 2020 due to COVID-19, people still came through for this year's program.

"With a shortage of bikes due to the pandemic, I'm glad that we still received donations this year," Ward said.

In 2020 alone, Working Bikes sent 4,848 bikes by shipping container to Africa and Central America and 1,390 were donated locally, according to the organization’s website. A total of 100,000 bikes has been distributed by Working Bikes since 1999.

“Over one hundred thousand people have been empowered to access resources and opportunities that otherwise could have been out of reach  – reducing waste, lessening pollution, and improving health in the process,” the website states.

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