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Local law enforcement initiates bike giveaway program

Due to the impact the economy is having across the nation and here in rural Minnesota, many families during the Christmas season will be unable to put gifts under their tree, and some children may not know the excitement of a new toy.

Law enforcement in the community of Park Rapids wanted to make a difference this year. Darcy Gagnon, a trooper with the Minnesota State Patrol and Park Rapids Police Chief Terry Eilers met together and discussed an idea. Gagnon was familiar with an organization in the Twin Cities that donated bikes to kids for Christmas. Knowing the beautiful area and the abundance of trails available to ride on, it seemed like the perfect fit.

Gagnon and Eilers decided to join forces with the nonprofit organization Free Bikes 4 Kidz (FB4K) to make Christmas dreams a reality for a child in Park Rapids. Little did they know that they would be making dreams come true for even more.

FB4K is a nonprofit organization that donates bikes to children for Christmas. Terry Esau started the organization inconspicuously in 2008.

A total of 16 bikes were able to be refurbished and were brought back to Park Rapids to be donated. In an effort to find 16 children in need of bikes in the Park Rapids area, the officers enlisted the help of Jennifer Therkilsen of Kinship in Park Rapids. Kinship is a preventive, proactive mentoring program that matches local children and youth with adult mentors. Kinship mentors were able to refer children who were in need of a bike for Christmas.

Helmets were donated by local bike and ski club Itascaturs. The bikes will be handed out to their new owners on Dec. 15. The hope for next year is to double the donations of bikes and recipients.

There are four ways to get involved with FB4K next year.

Donate a good quality, working, clean bike.

Volunteer to help clean and refurbish these bikes.

Donate funds to help support FB4K.

Start a chapter of FB4K in the area.

Esau started the organization from his garage when he got a phone call from someone who said, "I know you have a bunch of cycling buddies who show up in your driveway every Saturday to ride. I was just wondering if one of you might have an extra bike we could give to a family in our area that is really hurting." Esau said, "Let me make a couple calls."

He contacted four of his friends, who all had bikes they were willing to give. He thought, "There must be hundreds of bikes sitting in garages collecting dust - bikes that have been outgrown by kids. And there are so many kids who don't have a bike. That's just wrong. We can solve this problem, at least for a bunch of kids."

Esau asked KARE TV if they would let him come on the air and ask for people to donate used bikes to his little cycling club. The cycling club refurbished the bikes and gave them away to kids in need. That year, in two weeks, 300 bikes were taken in and fixed up. About 200 of them were given away. Free Bikes 4 Kidz was born.

Now, less than four years later, FB4K is the largest distributor of free bikes in the country. In 2011, FB4K collected 6,000 bikes and refurbished 5,000 bikes. Each bike was distributed at 60 locations and a free helmet was attached to each. The bikes that are collected throughout the year are brought to nine worksites where over 2,000 volunteers repair and refurbish the bikes. FB4K has expanded its involvement with local charity organizations such as Allina and other partners and works with 115 community partners to give the bikes away. And they are just getting started. In 2012, the hope is to bring in 10,000 bikes. FB4K hopes to begin expanding the program to other states and cities and has a goal of giving away 100,000 bikes by 2015.

Working as law enforcement officers in multiple areas of Minnesota, Gagnon and Eilers saw many bikes lost and not claimed during the year. These bikes usually ended up sitting outside local police departments and were taken to the local landfill if unclaimed. In Park Rapids this year there were 60 unclaimed bikes available. These bikes were taken to the Twin Cities and refurbished by hundreds of volunteers working for FB4K.

This is a great opportunity to give back to the community. For more information, go to

As they say at FB4K, "Good wheel to all, and to all a good bike!"