GOING THE DISTANCE: Bike Elf brings Christmas cheer to local children

Published on December 16, 2016 – Melanie Tucker, The Daily Times
Read the story at the Daily Times

(Maryville) With a name like Bike Elf, you’d assume it’s a crazy busy time of year — and you’d be right.

Elves have been busy for weeks here in Blount County, raising money to see that Christmas is bright for children.

Bike Elf is a nonprofit organization based here in Blount County that takes in used bikes in good shape, refurbishes them and then awards them to students who earn them. They’ve donated more than 100 to places like Blount County Boys and Girls Club to give out to students reaching personal goals or demonstrating improvements in academics.

This Christmas, Bike Elf Founders Dewayne and Leigh Wilson decided to partner again with the Salvation Army and its Angel Tree program. Families in this community sign up with the SA to receive help providing a merry Christmas for their children. Those children’s names end up on an Angel Tree where generous shoppers then purchase what’s on the child’s wish list.

The Angel Trees were located at both Wal-Marts, both Starbucks and also National Fitness.

Give me some wheels

Bikes were heavy on the wish lists, said Corps Officer Lt. Whitney Tomberlain, of the Salvation Army. So when Bike Elf agreed to raise money to purchase new bikes for these children, she was elated.

That ended up being 30 new bikes. They were delivered to the Salvation Army on Wednesday afternoon and will be distributed to families Saturday morning. Salvation Army board members Sam Coulter, Bob Tiebout and Christi Fightmaster were on hand to wheel the bikes into the SA building on Sevierville Road in Maryville.

Leigh Wilson said funds were raised from various sponsors to purchase the brand new bikes. Then she and Dewayne went out on Black Friday to do the shopping. Local sponsors included businesses like Academy Sports Outdoors, ALCOA TENN Federal Credit Union, Anderson Lumber Company, Blount Partnership, Nelson Realtors Inc., Douglas and Virginia Hardwick, Hickory Construction, Katherine Dorner, Home Federal Bank, Mary Beth West Communications, ORNL Federal Credit Union, PCS Inc., Power Equipment, Promat and their employees, Pugh CPAs and Safe Skies.

What a day

“I have never been in a store on Black Friday,” Leigh said. “But these bikes were on killer sale so I said ‘I’m in. Let’s do it.’”

It took seven hours to complete the purchase of the bikes and transport them from the store. — a test of anyone’s patience and resolve. Half of the bikes were already assembled, so trucks were needed for hauling. The others ones that were boxed up needed to be assembled. Luckily, Bike Elf had a team of assemblers to make easy work of the chore.

In addition to the bicycles, Bike Elf also presented the Maryville Salvation Army with a check for $945. Leigh Wilson is also equipping 107 children with bike helmets and 109 bike locks. The money is being used to purchase gifts for Angel Tree children that were still lacking some presents, Tomberlain said.

Fightmaster said being part of this project is so rewarding. She loved the fact that so many children requested bikes for Christmas.

“Especially in this day and age when it’s all about video games and gaming systems,” she said. “It speaks volumes that these kids want to be active.”

An idea is born

Bike Elf was started in January 2015 by the Wilsons, a husband and wife team. The goal at that time was to acquire and refurbish 100 bicycles by Christmas 2015. In just under two years, Bike Elf has had nearly 600 bicycles donated and has gifted 100 bicycles to deserving children. The Wilsons started it all in the garage of their Townsend home.

There were a total of 109 Blount County children who wanted bikes this year at Salvation Army and Bike Elf took on the responsibility of getting the large ones, Leigh said. “Those are the ones that are tough to hang on an Angel Tree,” she said. “It is easy enough to put together a 12-inch bike and load it in the backseat of a car. It’s not a huge investment. You need a truck for these.”

Credit also goes to the Epilepsy Foundation of East Tennessee for helping provide bike helmets, Leigh said.

It is only a few days until Dec. 25 and this project means children who might not have received bicycles for Christmas will find them under the tree. Tomberlain said there were still other Angel Tree gifts that hadn’t yet been delivered to the SA office. These gifts are to be handed out Saturday.

This year there were certainly more families and children being helped by the local Salvation Army. There are 132 families, which includes 330 children. That’s a 30 percent increase over last year.

Bike Elf, the Wilsons said, is glad to have a part in making Christmas all the merrier.