NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> The parking lot across from Olde Saint Andrews Church bustled with activity Saturday morning as car after car pulled into the lot to unload their donated bikes and sewing machines.
As early morning gave way to late morning, a pile of used bikes and sewing machines grew larger and larger as the parking lot bustled with increased activity.
It was a scene that warmed the heart of Newtown Rotary Club President Dr. Jerry Agasar who has been organizing the drive for the past 18 years through the New Jersey-based nonprofit, Pedals for Progress.
“When this started in 2003 I thought we’d do it for a year or two. I cannot believe the response we have been getting year after year. We get at least 150 bikes a year,” said Agasar, who estimates that over the years the club has collected close to 3,000 bikes. “I am so grateful to our community for its generosity.”
Agasar admitted he wasn’t quite sure what to expect this year given the pandemic. But his concerns soon lessened as the community again responded with bikes of all shapes and sizes and a lot of used sewing machines.
“We were worried about Covid thwarting it a little bit, but we’re doing well,” he said. “Last year we had 105 pre-collected bikes. This year we only had 69. It’s a little down, but today has been steady.”
Just as he uttered those words, a lull in the activity gave way to another round of cars pulling into the parking lot.
Soon, the parking lot was again filled with activity as members of the Newtown Rotary Club joined about a dozen Scouts from Troop 29 in helping to unload and prepare the bikes for shipment to Third World countries overseas.
“The Boy Scouts really stepped up for us,” said Rotarian Rick Rogers, who was helping prepare a bike for shipment. “We usually have our Interact Club students helping, but they weren’t available this year due to the pandemic.”
“I can’t thank them enough,” added Agasar of the Scouts. “They have been such a big help. And we appreciate them for coming out and getting their hands dirty.”
Using his trusty wrench and crowbar, Rotarian and longtime Newtown resident Allen Fidler spent the morning traveling around the lot helping Scouts remove pedals, lower seats and loosen handle bars for more efficient stacking.
“These bikes will be shipped overseas where they are reconditioned and sold at a nominal price to people in their community so the kids can go back and forth to school and still have time to help their families at home and moms and dads can have a bike to get to work or to transport goods,” said Fidler. “Opportunities abound when you have transportation.”
For the past 18 years, Fidler has donated the use of his barn to store bikes collected throughout the year. And in his spare time he’s out in the barn breaking down the bikes for the big shipment in the fall.
“It’s amazing the number of bikes they can get into one of those big shipping containers,” said Fidler. “And it’s amazing how much of a demand they have overseas for these bikes.”
While the used bikes don’t have value in the states because they are so cheap, Pedals for Progress founder David 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.”
Thanks to the generosity of the community, the Newtown Rotarians and Pedals For Progress, this year 160 bikes and 27 sewing machines are on their way to Albania and Tanzania.
If you couldn’t make it to the October collection drive, contact firstname.lastname@example.org call 215-605-3268to make collection arrangements for next year.