NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> A boom in bicycle sales due to the pandemic is translating into a lot more used bikes for Pedals for Progress.
After a spring and summer that brought its bike collections to a screeching halt, collections are picking up. And that’s good news for third world countries that need bikes desperately to help power their local economies.
David Schweidenback, who founded and runs New Jersey-based Pedals for Progress and Sewing Peace, is again partnering with the Newtown Rotary Club later this month for its 18th annual bike and sewing machine collection drive.
The event takes place from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24 at the parking lot across from Olde Saint Andrew Church at 135 South Sycamore Street, Newtown 18940.
Anyone with a bicycle in repairable condition is urged to donate it to the cause. The collection drive will not accept bikes for parts or disassembled bikes. But they will be accepting working portable sewing machines and sewing notions (no fabric, please).
It costs $45 to collect, process, ship, rebuild and distribute each bike so a donation toward shipping costs is necessary for the program’s continued success (suggested minimum $10 per item).
“One of the things that have happened during this pandemic is a lot of people started riding bikes again,” Schweidenback told members of the Newtown Rotary last week. “I don’t know if you have noticed it or not there are so many more people riding bikes. And those people pulled their old clunkers out of the garage that haven’t been riden in five years and decided this is fun. I like doing it. They also decided, gee if I’m going to do this I’m going to buy a new bike. And bike sales boomed.
“There was one point where the local bike shop near me had so many bikes it would have lasted until September,” said Schweidenback. “They sold every one of those bikes at full price in two weeks and then the bike shop was empty. Now the bike shops are starting to get resupplied, factories are open again so bike sales are really high. And when bike sales are high, that means you can collect more bikes,” he said.
That’s good news for Pedals for Progress, which saw its collection drives grind to a halt this past spring due to the COVID-19 shut down.
“We had plans to collect over 2,000 bikes this past spring and we didn’t do any of that,” said Schweidenback. “I was saved by the PPE. That helped. That kind of got me through.
“I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be collecting again and to have cash flow again. The fall season has done really well. We had two groups that decided they didn’t want to run a collection and that’s okay. But all the other collectors have run collections and have done just as well or better than other years.”
That’s very good news for his partner organizations overseas who are in desperate need of used bicycles
“This spring we lost about 2,000 bikes and 200 sewing machines that we should have gotten, but we didn’t,” said Schweidenback. “So a lot of my partners are really desperate. I should have made three or four shipments this spring that didn’t happen. Nobody got anything because we were locked down. So now we’re trying to collect as much as we can.”
Bikes collected by Pedals for Progress are reconditioned and shipped overseas to Third World countries where they are used as vital transportation modes and to move goods from one village to another.
Schweidenback started Pedals for Progress in February 1991 after he kept seeing used bikes sitting next to garage cans - “nice bikes that could really change someone’s life if you could just figure out how to collect them, how to repair them and how to redistribute them.”
His original plan was to collect 12. But things quickly got out of hand, he admits.
“And I started getting many, many bikes. I quickly realized there are millions out there. And they are a renewable product. People are out there buying bikes all the time,” said Schweidenback.
The sewing machines, however, will run out at some point with most of them dating from the 60s, 70s and 80s. “But I’ve been collecting sewing machines since 1999 and I still get some Treadle sewing machines donated as well as the old ones.”
While the used bikes don’t have value here because they are so cheap, Schweidenback said they are priceless in other parts of the world where they can power local economies.
“It just changes people’s lives,” said Schweidenback. “In Rivas, Nicaragua every kid has a bike. When I started the average kid got to fourth grade because they had to do work on the farm. With a bike, the average kid completes high school because he can get to school quickly and get home and still get his chores done. It fundamentally changes people’s lives.
“It’s not a hand out. It’s a leg up,” he says. “It gives them the ability to go out and work and provide for their families so no one goes hungry.
“You have to go to school. You have to go shopping. You have to go to work. And you need a way to do that,” said Schweidenback. “I knew from my Peace Corps experience that a lot of people don’t have that option. Pedals for Progress, Sewing Peace and collection drives like the one in Newtown are providing that option.”
This year, Schweidenback said bikes from the Newtown drive will either be going to Albania or Tanzania.
If you can’t make it to the October collection drive, contact firstname.lastname@example.org call 215-605-3268to make other collectionarrangements.