Bikes for the World

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Now That's How You Do Earth Day

April 22nd Bikes for the World shifted our operations north (and we aren't talking North Bethesda). We took a drive up the Pike to support the 12th annual Rotary Club of Carroll Creek bike collection. We had it on good authority it was going to be a good year.

This year was indeed special. Last year the Rotarians set a goal of one bike a day for a year. Last time we checked that is 365 days, typically- so 365 bikes right? Well the Rotarians must be dyslexic (and that's quite okay) because they actually turned over 539 bikes to us in 2016.

That effort was led by Richard Foot who turned over the reins to Norm Birzer this year who headed the bicycle committee for the Rotary club. And not to be outdone by his predecessor, Norm upped the ante. They continued to store bikes in an old dairy barn and increased their daily bike pick ups at bike shops, recycling centers, police departments, individual homes, etc.

By the first of the year, BfW was hearing rumors of well over 500 bikes already in storage...the same number of bikes we typically pack in a shipping container. So at a staff meeting Outreach Coordinator Yvette Hess asks Director Keith Oberg, "What is the feasibility of bringing a container directly into the barn where the Rotary club is storing bikes?" It was a long shot, but it beat moving all those bikes down to our warehouse...and at the time, we still didn't have our new warehouse figured out. That, and Keith LOVES this kind of challenge.

Shane Sellers of Frederick Community College
Well, it didn't take long to convince the Rotarians...a loading is fun and generates a lot of excitement for the program. And it's quite rewarding to collect the bikes for a single container and know exactly where it is heading.

This time, that program was CESTA in El Salvador. And the loading was scheduled for Earth Day, the day of their annual collection, at Triangle Motors in Frederick.

CESTA led bike ride in El Salvador
And what a perfect pairing.CESTA is very focused on Earth/climate issues. Just last month CESTA hosted the second ride for the environment in the town of San Pedro Masahuat, La Paz. The message being, ride your bike, save the earth! More than a hundred riders from surrounding schools along with community members who care about the environment participated in this pedaling 'protest'.

CESTA director Richard Navarro had this to say about riding a bike, "the bicycle is a mechanism that does not consume oil, does not contaminate the environment, does not generate noxious gases that impact the ecosystem."

Mackenzie Clark, Amber Meyers, and Dylan Wood
We were now still moving bikes from the barn to the loading, just not as far, being uber conscious of our carbon footprint during Earth Month. We pulled together an amazing team of Rotarians to help get this greasy wheel turning on Friday, and finished up with a collection of Rotarians and a great team from the Hood Rotaract Club.

But there was still a very active bike collection happening simultaneously. Thanks to May's BfW Featured Volunteer Sam Clingman, everything was moving along like a fine tuned drive train. Sam kept the volunteers in line prepping bikes and moving them to the container to be shipped to El Salvador. Donors got to see their bikes going directly into the shipment and the volunteers really got to see how and why the bike prepping is so important.

Richard Foot
It was chilly. It was rainy. We had a lot of work to get done in a short amount of time. No better team than the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek to get 'er done. The final count on that annual collection? 902 bikes (they were still coming in even after we closed the container, took down the tent and packed the wrenches away in the car). Um, yeah, we could have used TWO containers!

For the last four years, this collection has been stationed at Triangle Motors in Frederick. In the last four years the collection has yielded nearly 2,000 of the 3,000 total bikes collected over the last 12 years. It was the perfect place to celebrate their accomplishments with a container loading, despite the weather.

"You need to plan better and get better weather for this," joked Tom Meacham of Triangle Motor and also a member of the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek.

"It's Earth Day!" quipped back Richard Foot, the Rotarian who led the charge to take this collection to another level over two years ago.

"Well, this is pretty Earthy!" observed Tom.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Shipping Bikes and Building Islands

When Bikes for the World partners up with a school or organization we do more than collect bikes together. Outreach Coordinator Yvette Hess will routinely come into a classroom or club meeting to introduce some of our overseas partners and beneficiaries to help put a face to our mission.

One question the kids always ask is how do the bikes get from point A to point B. When they find out they go by ship, they want to know how they get there from their school and we love to tell them.

Earth Day 2017 loading in Frederick MD for CESTA El Salvador
Almost all of our bikes are loaded in our local warehouse now located in Rockville Maryland. There are a few cases when we will assist or advise on other loadings like the one we worked on today in Frederick Maryland.

We typically load forty foot shipping containers that arrive to our warehouse pulled by a tractor trailer. Most often our loadings are done over two days to allow time to sort bikes properly and include other items such as spare parts and tubes and tires that are invaluable to the mechanics rebuilding our donated bikes overseas.

Actual bike container in port in Ghana, Africa
After they leave our warehouse, the trucks deliver the containers to the port of Baltimore where they wait until a ship is leaving for the destined country. This could be two days or two weeks.

Then, they float across the ocean to their new homes in Central America or Africa or even the Philippines. This could take two weeks or as long as two months!

When the bikes arrive overseas our partners have to meet the containers at port to have them cleared and transported back to their warehouses and/or final destinations. This can also be a quick trip, like in Barbados which is a smaller island. Or it can take months, like in the Philippines where bikes are distributed among many, many islands and need to be transported several times.

Since today is Earth Day, we decided to give you an even different view our bikes' journey, the impact it has on our environment, and how Maryland is taking an obstacle and creating something amazing right here in the Chesapeake Bay.

Has anyone ever heard of Poplar Island?  This small island is located in Talbot County within the Chesapeake Bay and was on the edge of 'extinction' in the 90s. In fact, this once Presidential retreat island, was about 1100 acres and in less than 200 years it was reduced in size to 5 acres.

What does that have to do with shipping bikes around the world? Dredging. Dredging makes navigating cargo ships through these channels possible. Excavating sediment from those vital waterways keeps those channels open to ships needing a deep channel to pass.

But what do they do with the dredged material once it's removed from the bay floor? Good question, and here's the awesome answer...Maryland and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are now 'rebuilding' the lost footprint of Poplar Island with dredged material from the shipping channel. When the project is completed in 2029 Poplar Island will be even bigger than it was when it was discovered in 1573.

Restoring these islands is important for several reasons. The small islands dotted along the edge of Maryland are important in protecting our coasts from erosion and storm surge. Islands such as Poplar have also been critical in protecting wildlife habitat such as our bird species, fish and shellfish.

The Maryland Environmental Service also works with local schools to raise and place vulnerable terrapin populations on the island.

From the Maryland Environmental Service website:

"The restoration of Poplar Island includes the creation of uplands and intertidal wetlands offering a diversity of habitats for a variety of Chesapeake Bay wildlife. With less than 20% of the habitat creation completed, Poplar Island wildlife goals are already being realized.

A number of the region’s most sensitive bird species including common and least terns, cattle and snowy egrets, osprey, and the American black duck, are found nesting onsite annually and diamondback terrapins continue to return to the site to nest as well."

Don't take our word for it, you can schedule your own tour of Poplar Island. And this is an island you'll want to go back to year after year to see how much it changes over time.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

We've MOVED!

Bikes for the World has a new home! After years of jumping from place to place just barely escaping the wrecking ball that seemed to haunt our every move...BfW now has a semi-permanent address to call our own.

It's been a somewhat 'gypsy' existence taking advantage of donated or concessional space over the past decade or more, but the time has come to set down a few roots. Either that or there were no more abandoned buildings (or prisons) to take over.

Now, we are back in Montgomery County after a few years hiatus, this time with a five year paid lease. Read: We're sticking around for a while!

This new space is more centrally located to all the collection points we host throughout the year whether it's our seasonal community led events or our year long partnerships with bike shops in MD, VA, and DC. We've also, for the first time, combined our warehouse and office giving us the flexibility to open the warehouse up to volunteers on a more regular basis...while we are hard at work at our computers.

It's also afforded us the comfort to feel secure enough to put up sturdy permanent shelving and introduce a concept many volunteers have asked for over the years, organization for all levels. In fact, organizing the warehouse was the talk of the Warehouse Warming Party on April 8 when we opened our doors to you, our supporters, volunteers, and donors.

"Wow! Who came up with that wall (with the parts bins)? That's amazing!" Who's idea was it to use those old bike frames to organize the tires and get them off the floor?" Meet Bob Leftwich, our Operations Manager if you haven't already. Bob knows his way around a bike shop, having owned and managed one for over 35 years. And he likes his space organized. And you love him for it.

It's been a dream of BfW to have this type of organization in our parts room. Now with clearly marked bins volunteers of any level can sort or pack spare parts for shipments or storage. Our mechanic volunteers can now build up frames missing parts so that we send full bikes to our partners- giving those mechanics overseas a leg up when our donated bikes arrive en masse.

Volunteers can also interact with staff more frequently and ask all kinds of questions about the program or partners with our office right there in the warehouse. When Yvette Hess, Outreach Coordinator, is plugging away at her desk you can drop in and ask about the latest shipment or newest partner. "I just got back from Barbados and it was truly a delight to see how our partner there is using your old bikes to build a better, stronger neighborhood in their community," said Yvette during the party. "It's quite different from the other partners I've visited, but no less important."

BfW board member John Burg loads a bike for Madagascar
During the celebration this month, visitors also got to see and take part in loading a container destined for our health care partner in Madagascar.

It was the first time some of our collection volunteers ever got to see what happens to the bikes they collect at their schools or churches. "That's just incredible. I'd love to see them unload those bikes on the other end," said one volunteer.

Mike Johnston and Bob closing the container
And we recognized a few of our stand out collection partners too- those who have reached our 1k Club designation by collecting 1,000 or more bikes over the years. On hand accepting that award for Otterbein United Methodist Church was Michael Johnston who has worked alongside Cindy Brown for years to manage and organize this incredible effort. We also let Mike put the seal on the container.

Otterbein United Methodist Church was our first collection partner to achieve this mark way back in 2009. At their collection this year on April 29th we fully expect them to surpass 3,000 bikes donated! Otterbein also holds the record for the number of sewing machines donated to BfW.

Keith Oberg, Sam, and Tom Clingman
We also recognized the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek who stands at 2,100 bike donated since 2005. And FYI, that number does NOT include the bikes donated as part of the 2017 collection effort taking place April 22.

We'll have much more on that effort later this month. (Don't be surprised if they also break the 3,000 mark- and yes we know that means they will need to collect 900 bikes this year).

Perhaps a little early, perhaps not, BfW awarded a 1k Club plaque to the Glenwood Lions Club too. This group, working alongside the Glenwood Middle School LEOs, is poised to break 1,000 during their May 6th collection. We actually know they've already got #1,000 in storage so we went ahead and recognized them during our party. Stay tuned next month for an update on them.

The address, in case you missed our warehouse warming party, is 11720 Parklawn Dr, Rockville MD 20852, or North Bethesda if you prefer. We hope you'll stop in and see us sometime. You can drop a bottom bracket in a bin, roll a bike on a container, or ask a question of the staff...or just chill on the couch. Yeah, we got that too!