It’s a sunny Wednesday morning, and the garage in the modest parking lot at Beargrass Christian Church is bustling with activity as people come in and out to get parts and tools for the bikes they are fixing.
“So who knows how to adjust the brakes? Volunteer Chapin Collins calls as he repairs a Schwinn mounted on a brace.
An SUV pulls up, towing a flatbed trailer loaded with bicycles – bicycles recovered by police that have not been claimed and are now donated – giving the crew even more bikes to work on.
Every few minutes someone takes a bike ride around the church parking lot to test the repairs.
Soon some of these bikes will be driven by refugees who have just arrived in Louisville.
Pedal Power, as the program is called, has been repairing and then offering bikes for almost nine years now, providing bikes first to refugees and later to others in need in the community.
The program grew out of the hardships refugees faced trying to navigate life in Louisville.
Beargrass Christian Church, where the program is based, has long sponsored refugees arriving in Louisville. Previously, they provided refugees with bus passes to get around, but found that this was not really a perfect solution for newcomers to a foreign country.
“They didn’t know the city. They did not know the route of the bus. They didn’t speak English to find out about bus routes, ”says Bob Callander, who runs Pedal Power. “But if we gave them bikes, they could get around more easily. “
As more and more people started donating the old, unused bikes they had stored in their garages and basements, the popularity of the program snowballed.
In 2019 and 2020, they repaired and distributed 1,000 bikes per year. This year, they are in the process of distributing 800.
“We always have more bikes than we have time to fix,” says Callander. “Our goal is to make sure you can start the bike… and that you can stop the bike. Beyond that, we don’t try to make them pretty. We don’t have time for that.
Although they take children’s bicycles, the main focus of the program has remained focused on providing bicycles to adults who need them for basic transportation in order to take care of themselves and their families.
“The ones we love the most is that you put some air in them, and they’re good to go,” Callander says of the donations they receive. “Then the next category is bikes that need brakes for 30 minutes. “
They will work on bikes that require more extensive repair, but only if it is a “quality bike”. Otherwise, they cannibalize it for parts and send the rest for recycling. (The program also purchases parts needed for repairs with cash by repairing and occasionally selling nice bikes they own.)
Like other refugee aid groups, Pedal Power prepared for the arrival of Afghan refugees after tens of thousands of refugees arrived in the United States after the fall of Kabul in August.
When LEO visited, Pedal Power had 30 bikes ready to be turned over to Kentucky Refugee Departments that day for Afghan refugees.
Up to 350 Afghan refugees will be resettled in Louisville. As of Friday, 24 had arrived according to the Kentucky Office for Refugees, the nonprofit branch that handles the resettlement of refugees in the Commonwealth.
Pedal Power plans to donate the majority of the bikes they are currently working on to Afghan refugees.
Before the Trump administration, according to Callander, 90% of Pedal Power bikes went to refugees. But, as Donald Trump capped refugee admissions at record levels – allowing just 18,000 for 2020, up from a limit of 110,000 set at the end of the Obama administration – fewer refugees have arrived in Louisville.
Pedal Power shifted gears and started donating bikes to local groups including those helping the homeless, community ministries, St. Vincent De Paul and the YMCA. During the Trump years, refugees received only 20% of bikes refurbished by Pedal Power.
Their location right next to the entrance to the St. Matthews Farmers Market – which runs Saturdays from May through September in the parking lot of the Beargrass Christian Church – helped Pedal Power secure donated bikes as well as volunteers. .
Collins, 52, discovered Pedal Power after researching to donate old bikes to his predominantly Latino workforce garage at the back of Churchill Downs. While doing a bit of Google research, he found that the Backside Learning Center – which provides bikes to these workers – received bikes from Pedal Power. He has now been volunteering at Pedal Power for a few months.
“Rather than sit on a board and come up with ideas and help raise funds, I thought I would do something that a lot of people can’t do,” he said. . “That’s the reason I’m here.”
If you would like to donate a bike to Pedal Power, they can be left at any time at the bike rack outside their garage in the parking lot at Beargrass Christian Church – 4100 Shelbyville Road.
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