BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Add this to the list of odds and ends that fall under local police departments’ to-do lists: collecting abandoned bikes and figuring out what to do with them.
In Bethlehem, police pluck anywhere from 100 to 200 lost and forgotten bikes from public parks and private properties in a year’s time. Over the years, they’ve put them in a storage room at the department headquarters, where the pile has outgrown the officers’ ability to recycle them.
“We’re talking bikes ranging $700 to $800 to worthless pieces of garbage,” said Bethlehem police Capt. Benjamin Hackett.
For a time, he said, police tried selling the bikes to an online auction company, then to a recycling center for parts. But it proved too time-consuming for officers to take the bikes apart themselves. And police aren’t in the business of selling bikes.
This year for the third time, a local nonprofit took some of the bikes off their hands and put them into the hands of kids for the holidays.
“If you think about back when you’re a kid, the kind of freedom a bike meant … every kid deserves to have a bike,” Hackett said. “As long as it’s in good condition.”
The Coalition for Appropriate Transportation (CAT) made like Santa’s workshop and fixed up donated bikes to distribute as holiday gifts for families in need.
And it may well have been the West Broad Street nonprofit’s most robust giveaway year, with police shipping at least 50 bikes since June, in addition to bikes donated by community members learning of the holiday drive. At any given time in the store’s basement, there may be several hundred bikes hanging on hooks or handlebars, some vintage and all donated.
“We’ve never counted them,” said CAT co-founder Gary Madine.
Year-round, the shop also provides adult bikes to those in need in exchange for volunteer hours. The Saturday before holiday crunch time, there were as many as eight volunteers squeezed into the small shop — the most CAT director Scott Slingerland said he’s had for his holiday operation. Some are veterans, but some, like newcomer Tony Pagliaroli from Hanover Township, only recently found out about the effort and decided to lend a hand.
He worked on attaching white wheels to a small pink bike remade like new.
“This is right up my alley for sure,” he quipped.
He said it was an easy decision to spend an afternoon helping give another child the gift he said he’s taken for granted.
“It’s freedom,” he said. “It’s how I survived as a child.”
Some of the police department’s bikes were untouched for more than five years, dusty with disuse, Slingerland said. Only a handful were a complete loss, with bent frames or “tacoed” wheels.
Some parents drop in to see what’s available; others call ahead. Hasiyna Wilson saw a flier at a community center where she visits the food pantry and went to Bethlehem to pick up a tricycle for her 3-year-old grandson, Omari. The red and black trike, with brakes on the handlebars like an adult bike, will be his first.
“It’s hard for me right now financially, so this is beautiful what they’re doing,” she said.
Omari’s grandfather, Jahwann Lampkin, knelt down to help Slingerland adjust the seat. “I’m about to readjust the seat and ride it out of here myself,” Lampkin said.