Hearts Filled with Gold

Charitable Biking Organizations

I’ve been writing Pedal On columns with Erika Lindemann now since early in the summer. We’ve written about stolen bikes, working bikes, winter riding, BMX and mountain biking, learning to cycle, sharing the road, being thankful, and more. It’s time to talk about giving. Maybe it’s the holiday spirit — no, not hot rum drinks, but the spirit of caring people who create a bike-friendly community. It’s time to open our hearts.

Howard Booth

Speaking of hearts, there is a wonderful story about the Basement Tapes, the late ’60s recordings that preceded The Band’s album Music From Big Pink. Bob Dylan wrote some of the songs while recovering from a mysterious motorcycle accident. Big Pink was recorded in the basement of a rural house (painted pink) in upstate New York.

As the band was recording the first song on the album, Tears of Rage, Dylan was living upstairs and writing lyrics. Richard Manuel talks about him coming down to the studio with a piece of typewritten paper, asking, “Have you got any music for this?” Manuel wasn’t always sure what the lyrics meant. But he couldn’t bring himself to run upstairs and ask Bob, “What’s this mean, ‘Now the heart is filled with gold as if it was a purse’?”

I believe that everyone’s heart is filled with gold. But not everyone understands that life is brief and giving back now is what we do because our days are also uncertain. This holiday season, take a minute and find a charitable biking organization that you believe in and can support. Write a check. Hit the “Donate Now” button. Here are a few national and international suggestions with a cycling twist. I’ll save my local recommendations for the end.

Bikes to Rwanda is dedicated to helping the communities of Rwanda by providing much-needed bicycles and repair shops, which allow for greater productivity from their agriculture industry (primarily coffee farming). So if you drink coffee, check them out.

Pedals for Progress has provided over 130,000 used bikes to poor people in 38 countries who need cheap transportation to get to jobs, markets, customers, and schools.

Re-Cycle is changing lives by sending bicycles to areas in Africa where many people have no access to transport of any kind. Ownership of a bike cuts travel times drastically, helping families get to school or collect water. So far, Re-Cycle has sent over 26,000 bikes and plans to send thousands more with your help.

Trips for Kids provides mountain bike trips and environmental education for kids who would not otherwise have wilderness experiences. You can donate money, bikes, or equipment.

The Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust is committed to saving young people’s lives by promoting safe cycling. The trust promotes cycling education and the use of helmets, lights, and reflective clothing. The goal is to ensure that young cyclists are well equipped to ride safely.

Safe Is Sexy is trying erase the perception that wearing a helmet is dorky or uncool and to encourage the idea that wearing a helmet is attractive, cool, and smart.

Wheels 4 Life provides free bicycles for people in need of transportation in Third World countries. The group partners with local organizations and identifies persons who sincerely need a bike to be able to go to school or to work, which could be 10 to 20 miles away. The gift of mobility can do miracles.

World Bicycle Relief was founded in 2005 in response to the December 2004 tsunami that swept the Indian Ocean. It continues to partner with countries in need by providing life-changing bicycles (for example, 88 percent of recipients depend on bicycles for livelihood activities).

Yield to Life helps save cyclists’ lives and improve everyone’s quality of life on the road. Donations are used for awareness campaigns and education initiatives that target both motorists and cyclists, young and old, with the goal of making cycling safe for all.

Finally, let me make a hometown connection. With My Own Two Wheels, a film by Santa Barbara Middle School graduate Jacob Seigel-Boettner, weaves together the stories of five individuals who are changing the world — one pedal-stroke at a time. For many Americans biking is recreation. For millions of people in developing countries, a bicycle is much more.

For example, with a bicycle from World Bicycle Relief, Fred, a health worker in Zambia, is reaching twice as many patients every week. For Bharati, a teenager in India, the bike provides access to education. Thanks to the bicycle-mechanics training provided by Bikes Not Bombs, Mirriam is now the chief wheel-builder at Ability Bikes Cooperative, a bike shop staffed entirely by disabled Ghanaians. In Guatemala, a farmer named Carlos helped found Maya Pedal, an organization dedicated to creating low-cost bicimaquinas (pedal-powered machines) to assist rural farmers

For Sharkey, the bicycle is an escape from the gangs that consume so many of his peers. Sharkey now volunteers at the community run bike shop Bici Centro as a bike mechanic and instructor, teaching Santa Barbarians from all walks of life how to keep rolling forward.

Giving What You’ve Got: One of the part-time staff at an early childhood center I ran years ago was Viola, 83 and as feisty as they come. Viola had a huge family. At her 80th birthday party, her children through great-grandchildren numbered nearly 100. Every December, I’d ask Viola if she was ready for the holidays. Her answer was always the same, “I put my Christmas salt and pepper shakers on the kitchen table; I’m ready.” Viola was also the staff member who each year, during our Annual Giving campaign, would stuff a wrinkled dollar bill and some spare change into an envelope and hand it to me saying, “Howard, it’s all I’ve got.” Each year I’d hug her and tell her it was the most generous and caring contribution we had received all year. And it was.


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