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Tradition of giving continues with 7,500 bikes for kids in need

Over the last 10 years, Free Bikes 4 Kidz has given away 50,000 bikes to underprivileged children in Minnesota and beyond.

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A bicycle is one of the ultimate gifts. Your first is unforgettable, yet many underprivileged children don’t get this joy. Free Bikes 4 Kidz (FB4K), a non-profit based in Minnesota’s Twin Cities area has been working for 10 years to make bike dreams come true for these children each holiday season.

On Saturday, the group hosts its annual December giveaway event. About 2,000 kids will receive refurbished bikes, adding to the nearly 50,000 bicycles the group has donated during its decade-long history.

“As someone who grew up on a bike, I think that’s just wrong,” says FB4K founder Terry Esau about children whose families cannot afford to give them bikes. “I’ve seen what a bike can do for me, and I know what it can do for these kids.”

Inspiration struck Esau when he saw unused kids bikes in garages around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. The outgrown bikes were an inconvenience — to make room, families had to sell them or, at worst, throw them out.

So, 10 years ago, he reached out to his local NBC affiliate. Esau had a connection there through his day job as a writer and producer of music for TV commercials. He’d written jingles for this NBC station.

Esau put the word out on NBC’s KARE, asking people to donate unwanted kids bikes to be refurbished and given to families in need. With help from friends and his local race team, he gave away 250 bikes in December 2008.

The next year, they gave away 750 bikes. In 2010, Esau’s group refurbished and donated 1,500 bikes.

“I said, ‘Okay this has become more than a hobby. Let’s form a non-profit, I’ll go out see if I can find some sponsorship dollars,’” Esau says.

Now, the organization has chapters in five other cities, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Madison, Wisconsin, Portland and Eugene, Oregon.

In 2017, the Minnesota chapter took in 9,136 donated bikes, a new record for FB4K. Esau expects about 7,500 of those will be given away. Some of the donated bikes are unsafe to ride. They’ll be used for parts to refurbish the bikes that will be given to the kids. It takes about 5,000 volunteers and 22,000 volunteer hours over three months to get the bikes ready.

The first 2,000 will be given away December 2, and the remainder will be distributed via 75 affiliated organizations throughout the Twin Cities area. These organizations, such as YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and faith-based groups, are key to getting the bikes into the hands of the kids who need them. FB4K takes care of the bikes themselves, while the organizations pore through their participants to find the right recipients. Esau says the bikes will also go to kids at 10-12 inner-city schools, places where 90 percent of children are on free or reduced lunch programs.

Terry Esau
Terry Esau with one of the thousands of kids given a bike through the Free Bikes 4 Kidz program. Photo courtesy Terry Esau

For Esau, it is a labor of love borne out of his personal passion for cycling.

“All we want to do is put kids on bikes,” says the 63-year-old who rode from Minnesota to the Pacific Ocean and back when he was 16. “There are kids who can’t afford a bike; there are millions of bikes in garages collecting dust. Let’s put them together.”

With an organization this prolific, it’s difficult to pick out the biggest success stories. There are literally thousands of them.

However, Esau recalls a particularly memorable family from last year, refugees from Somalia. He remembers how the father, Victor, had asked for 10 bikes — he and his wife had 10 children.

“They had just arrived here, and they had absolutely nothing,” Esau says. “I said, ‘Come back at the end of the day, and let me see what we can do.’ They came back and we got all 10 of his kids on bikes, and we gave him and his wife bikes. He sent a picture and a card with a beautiful note that said, ‘You don’t know what you just did for our family.’”

If you want to get involved, or if you’d like to start a FB4K chapter in your city, please contact Terry Esau.