The hum of activity as hundreds of volunteers worked to build more than 1,000 bikes temporarily transformed the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick into what looked like Santa’s workshop.
Santa himself was even spotted in the room.
Those working on the bicycles weren’t elves though. They were among the 600 volunteers who braved the season’s first snowfall on Dec. 1 to support Bikes for Tikes.
Bikes for Tikes raises money to buy and build bikes to distribute throughout the Northwest. The organization was founded in 2009 by the UA Local 598 Plumbers and Steamfitters Union.
Charlynn Hull, an attorney with Smart Law, has known about Bikes for Tikes since its inception. Her father, Jim Hull, is a retired pipefitter who was on the union board for 598, where her grandfather had worked as a plumber.
“When I moved back four to five years ago, I asked Smart Law to be a sponsor,” Charlynn Hull said. Her firm is a major sponsor of Bikes for Tikes’ golf fundraiser.
For Renee Brooks, the bike build event is a “great way to keep ongoing relationships with (our) partners and give back to the community.” She works at Hanford Mission Integration Solutions, which supplied about 50 volunteers to lend a hand, all dressed in neon green shirts.
HMIS has been a sponsor of the event for more than 10 years – since 598 workers supporting HMIS initially approached the Hanford contractor about volunteering. Today, it is one of the most popular events for employees to volunteer for, Brooks said.
She spent the event taking photos and assisting with registration, preferring to leave the bulk of the bike building and quality assurance to those with more technical skills, she said.
Not all of the volunteers who showed up knew how to build a bike.
Claire Venema, community relations specialist with the Richland Police Department, said that she “just learned on the go.”
She recruited some members from the department’s traffic team to volunteer.
Richland police officer Steve Heid, who was working on a bike with Venema, said they were trying to build as many as they could. Heid said he “put a few together for (his) own kids but never this quantity.”
Tina Clouston, one of the Bikes for Tikes organizers, said that 1,600 bikes were put together during the four-hour event.
Though the big accomplishment for Bikes for Tikes that day was building its 20,000th bike since the organization started 14 years ago, a small group of volunteers celebrated the completion of their fifth bike of the day.
Florence Ardon, Lorna Kempf and Greg Soma with AmeriCorps worked together as a team. They unwrapped their bikes, then attached the pedals and the seat before finishing them up. Ardon’s favorite part has been “figuring out how (all) the parts fit.”
Kempf had never participated in the event before, but she was enthusiastic about it. “Oh, I love it,” she said with a smile. “It’s nice being able to help the community.”
According to AmeriCorps director Jessica Sagdal, the team are all mentors at middle schools, where they work with students who are chronically absent.
As the bikes were assembled, the back of the room began to fill up with rows of colorful bikes leaning on their kickstands or training wheels.
For Brooks, this is the best part: “Seeing when the room is full of finished bikes and knowing the youth in our community will have a new bike and a great Christmas, and we played a small part in that.”
Both individuals and organizations can request bikes through Bikes for Tikes’ website. Requests open about three months before the annual bike build and close two weeks before the event to allow processing time.
Go to: bikesfortikesnw.com.
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