Local bike shop, radio station team up to build bikes for underprivileged children

Rachel Thompson

On the morning of Dec. 16, 750 underprivileged Texas children will head out to a parking lot full of bicycles, knowing that one of those bikes will be theirs to take home.

Local Austin bike shop Mellow Johnny’s works with Mix 94.7 and the station’s JB and Sandy Morning Show to sponsor Bikes for Kids, now in its 16th year. The project uses individual donations and the work of dedicated volunteers to purchase and assemble bicycles for children in Central Texas who wouldn’t ordinarily receive any Christmas presents.

Mellow Johnny’s general manager Craig Staley said more than 10,000 bicycles have been donated since the project began. Donations come from listeners and large corporate sponsors.

“What’s amazing to me is that it’s so focused,” Staley said. “On that morning, it’s like a sea of bicycles in the parking lot.”

JB Hager of the JB and Sandy Morning Show said the station began working with Mellow Johnny’s on the project because of a long-term relationship with Austin cycling legend Lance Armstrong, the owner of Mellow Johnny’s and a project supporter. Armstrong contacted Trek, a bike company, so the bikes could be purchased in bulk, Hager said.

Before the bicycles can be assembled, 94.7 listeners nominate needy families they know with children who might enjoy a bike, Hager said.

“Quite often, the recipients are kids nominated by teachers who see a kid coming to school every day wearing the same clothes,” Hager said.

From there, project staff read through all of the letters submitted to decide which children will receive the bikes.

“We share some of the letters on the radio, and people just really connect with it,” Hager said. “It’s a very tangible charity. People like that.”

Mellow Johnny’s staff and other volunteers work to assemble all of the bikes before pick-up day, when the families arrive and the children are given their bicycles.

“Our big finale is pick-up day,” Hager said. “There’s a lot of tears on that day.”

Hager said the inspiration of the project stemmed from the idea of bicycles as childhood staples and creators of happy memories.

“We wanted to do a children’s charity,” Hager said. “We were like ‘What does a kid want? What do most kids think of when they reflect on their favorite gifts they ever got?’ Many will tell you it’s a bike.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 8, 2011 as: Bikes for Kids builds dreams