When most people think back to Christmas mornings when they were kids, one memory is likely to stand out: receiving that first bicycle. This Christmas, thanks to The Spokes Group, thousands of underprivileged local kids will be granted that special memory. Founded in 1994, The Spokes Group has given nearly 24,000 new bikes to kids in the Charlotte area, says current president William Beard. “Every kid should experience the independence and joy of getting that first bicycle,” says Beard, a vice president at Merrill Lynch and Co. in Charlotte. The Spokes Group started as a friendly competition between Beard’s father, Andy Beard of Davidson, and his friend Dick Dunn. Both men were small-business owners, and wanted to see who could raise the most money for a charitable cause during the Christmas season. The two friends ended up raising enough money to purchase about 15 new bikes, which they gave to the Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte to distribute to needy families. From there, The Spokes Group continued to grow, partnering with and donating bikes to other charitable organizations along the way, including the local Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Right Moves for Youth. Will Beard took over as president of the group about 12 years ago. And thanks to dozens of volunteers and a nine-person board of directors, including Dunn’s son, Richard, who is vice president, the group is now reaching more kids than ever. In fact, The Spokes Group started a Raleigh chapter in 2007, and this year launched chapters in Atlanta and Charleston, S.C. This Christmas the Charlotte branch alone will give away 2,000 new bikes.Donations have continued to grow despite the recession, says Richard Dunn. “A bike is such a great gift to give a kid at Christmas,” he says. “Even with the economy, the community has continued to show support, including both individual and corporate donors.” The Spokes Group gets its bikes from the Centerville, Ohio-based Huffy Corporation. The bikes are shipped to a former Wal-Mart location on East Arrowood Road, which is the site of the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, a joint effort with other local organizations that serves as a clearinghouse for those seeking to help others. As Christmas draws near, the building fills up with thousands of toys, most of them bought using donations given to the Angel Tree program or the Empty Stocking Fund. Families fill out applications, and the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services selects families who, based on income, qualify to participate in the Christmas Bureau program. Maj. Todd Hawks, area commander for The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte, says thanks to the efforts of The Spokes Group, there are more assembled bikes at the Christmas Bureau center than any retail location in Charlotte. “Another reason we have enjoyed our partnership with The Spokes Group is because of the integrity of their stewardship,” says Hawks. “The money they raise goes entirely towards the purchase of bikes, and through our partnership we’ve provided Christmas cheer to thousands.” Unfortunately, though, they don’t have the resources to give a bike to every kid out there. So when qualified families visit the former Wal-Mart store, they spin a “Wheel of Fortune” for the chance to win a new bike. “There’s a lot of excitement around that process,” says Beard. “We’ve had some of the same volunteers work the wheel for 10 to 15 years.” Dunn says some of his most memorable experiences with The Spokes Group are from when his own kids volunteer and help hand out bikes. “It’s a thrill for them to see how much joy it brings people, and it also helps them realize how fortunate they are.” The bikes are distributed over four to five days starting the week prior to Christmas. About 80 percent of their bikes are given away through the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau. Others are given directly to its partners such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Right Moves for Youth. And this year, the group is also donating about 15 bikes to Victory Junction, a special camp in Randleman for kids with serious health issues. “There’s a need out there, and it’s grown with the downturn in the economy,” says Beard. “We hope to continue to grow The Spokes Group and partner with other organizations in year’s to come. Every kid deserves to have a special Christmas, and we’re trying to reach as many as we can.”
The Spokes GroupFor information or to make a donation, go to thespokesgroup.com. $70 purchases a bike and a helmet. You can also mail a tax-deductible check to: The Spokes Groupc/o L. E. Goodgame and Associates8058 Corporate Center Drive Suite 200Charlotte, N.C. 28226
The Empty Stocking FundEach holiday season, the parent company of SouthPark Magazine, The Charlotte Observer, asks readers to donate to the Empty Stocking Fund, which provides needy families with toys, clothes and gift cards for Christmas in partnership with The Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau and other agencys that help the needy. To contribute online through PayPal, go to www.charlotteobserver.com/emptystockingfund - or send checks to: The Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte NC 28237-7269.