The Toll Gate High School Class of 2014 began their efforts to collect 50 bikes to send to the Boston-based, non-profit Bikes Not Bombs in October; last week their project ended with more than 150 bikes packed into the organization’s truck to eventually be sent to Guatemala.
“I’m feeling pretty good considering our goal was 50,” said Kyle Gray, senior class president at Toll Gate, about the community service project undertaken by the Class of 2014. “We got calls from all around the city.”
Last Thursday, about a dozen Toll Gate seniors and juniors volunteered to take a “field trip” to Room 104 where the bikes were stored, and spent most of the day learning how to “flatten” the bikes and help fill the Bikes Not Bombs Truck.
Bikes Not Bombs bike donation coordinator Stephen Bosco showed the students how to loosen the handles, pedals and other parts of the bike so they could be rotated and lay flat to fit better in the truck.
The number of bikes collected by the senior class impressed even Bosco. He explained that the average bike drive results in 45 bikes.
“So these guys did three times that,” said Bosco.
It wasn’t just the community at and around Toll Gate that got involved.
“We got bikes from the whole city of Warwick,” said Dennis Dubee, Toll Gate technology teacher who oversaw the service project. He recalled making trips or sending students to pick up bikes in Conimicut, Pawtuxet Village, Airport Road and beyond. Warwick Police Department also donated 30 bikes from their collection of lost bikes to the cause.
When the class began its collection at the end of October, no one was sure how many bikes they would be able to collect. But one newspaper article and a word-of-mouth campaign seemed to do the trick.
“The whole city of Warwick was extremely generous. I was really surprised,” said Dubee.
Gray considered the project to be a great success, not just because of how many bikes were collected but because of how it brought the senior class together.
“It went over really well. We did a lot together. Even if people couldn’t help, they donated something,” said Gray, adding that in addition to bikes, helmets, seats, bike baskets, clothing and more was collected.
Dubee was also very impressed with how dedicated students were to this project. He would receive a call from someone wanting to donate a bike, create a pick-up slip and seniors would volunteer their time (and gas) to drive to the house, meet with the donor, and discuss the project before taking the bike(s). “There was a protocol they had to follow,” said Dubee.
Bosco explained that the 150 bikes would be included in a shipment of 500 bikes to Bikes Not Bomb’s international program in Guatemala, Bici-Tec. The shipment will go out in the coming weeks, as soon as all the bikes are together at the Bikes Not Bombs warehouse in the Boston area.
Bici-Tec, located in San Andres Itzapa, Gautemala, is a bicycle machine enterprise creating pedal powered machines for everyday tasks such as grain grinders, nut shellers, water pumps, clothes washers and corn degrainers. They also sell some of the bikes for community transportation needs.
Bosco explained that the workers do charge for their machines, but they are at a heavily subsidized price. Bikes Not Bombs tries to avoid giving away free bicycles because they follow a philosophy that these projects become established businesses providing jobs and income, as well as transportation or other needs for the people of the area.
“That allows the person whose getting the bike some ‘skin in,’” said Bosco. “But we want to ensure the people who need these bikes have reasonable access.”
The first shipment of bikes to an international partnership is free, but after that the partners are charged.
“After that, a business of sorts is established,” said Bosco.
Bikes Not Bombs also supports bike shops and other enterprises in Central America and Africa through international partnerships. Of the nearly 6,000 bikes collected annually, 80 percent are sent overseas to various partners.
“We try to provide deep support to our international projects,” said Bosco.
The other 20 percent (between 200 and 300 bikes) are part of a youth program in Boston called Earn-A-Bike that teaches young people basic bike mechanic skills and bike safety, after which they can purchase the bike for a discounted price. Bikes Not Bombs also operates a full-service bike shop in Boston.
Dubee is hoping that Toll Gate will host another Bikes Not Bombs bike drive next year in some way.