Continuing a tradition that’s in its fourth year, the Cameron Park Rotary Club delivered 51 bikes to local youngsters, just in time for Christmas.
Working collaboratively with Folsom Prison, members of Rotary picked up the bikes refurbished by inmates at the prison on Dec. 20. The bikes were then distributed to students at Sierra Elementary School and Camino Elementary School just before school let out for the holiday.
Lt. Steve Zanini, a spokesperson for Folsom Prison, said they have had a prison bike giveaway since 1986. He said it is a collaborative effort between different community groups such as Rotary and the prison. Prior to Rotary running the program it was run by the Boys and Girls Club.
Zanini said throughout the year the prison receives used bikes collected by community groups or dropped off by people at the front gate. Inmates then work seven hours a day, five days a week rehabbing the bikes. Zanini said it takes two to six hours to get a bike looking like new again and is part of the prison’s recycling program.
In the 25 years of the program’s existence, Zanini estimates 8,000 bikes have been refurbished and given to youths with the number varying from year to year. In the past they have given out as many as 150 bikes locally.
“It is a way for us to give back to the community,” said Zanini. “It’s a community partnership. The inmates feel proud to do something constructive for the kids.”
Money to pay for repairing the bikes comes from fundraising done by Interact Club students at Ponderosa High School. The Interact Club is sponsored by the Cameron Park Rotary Club.
Chuck LePere, a member of the Rotary Club, said the high school students raise money for local charities and in the case of the bike program they raised $500 for the bike repairs. The money went towards buying paint, tools, tires, or other items needed to get the bikes back to new condition.
On Dec. 20, 51 bikes, each tagged with the name of the child receiving it, were on display in front of the East Gate of the prison before pick up. Zanini said at least six pick up trucks driven by Rotarians then arrived to load the bikes and deliver them to the two elementary schools.
Natalie Miller, principal at Sierra Elementary, said children are selected to receive a bike based on need. The parent is then sent a letter saying their child has won a bike.
The process for giving out the bikes, however, is different for the two elementary schools.
At Camino, parents and their children picked up their bikes. At Sierra, students in the Interact Club gave the bikes out. “That’s what it’s all about,” said LePere, “the interaction between the high school students and the kids getting the bicycles.”
LaPere said when the elementary school children are invited into the gym they don’t know what is coming. “When their name is called, they are surprised to receive a bike,” he said. “The interaction is very emotional and the students are deeply affected by what they do.
“Many of the youngsters would not be getting a Christmas present at all if not for the program and our kids know it,” he added. “It’s Christmas and our kids get to play Santa Claus, but without a beard on.”