LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) — Many children from low-income families are nervous about whether they will get something fun for Christmas. But volunteers are making sure that hundreds of them will feel the wind of freedom in their hair, by fixing up old bicycles.

“We’ve wanted to give away about 500, and we’ll get there,” Nathan Keltch claimed. Keltch oversees Recycle Bikes for Kids, a non-profit based out of a warehouse in North Little Rock. Its volunteers repair nearly 2,000 bicycles a year to be donated to people in need.

Thursday afternoon, volunteers made the last repairs to bicycles that will be donated to children for Christmas.

“Seeing them smile actually makes me smile,” Robert Smith said.
Smith is a regular volunteer at Recycle Bikes for Kids, one of several. Families have also given their time to Recycle Bikes’ Christmas drive, as have churches, school groups, and corporations. Keltch said that he likes to ask the volunteers about their first bicycles.

“And immediately,” he said, “people’s faces light up, and they regale us with stories about, you know, going to Walmart by themselves for the first time and buying a backpack-full of candy, or, really, just that time in their life where they got to experience freedom for the first time. And we can see that same look in a kid’s face 2,000 times a year.”

Smith knows better than most the feeling behind that look.

“When I was little, I wasn’t able to get bikes,” he said. “I was poor. And people like this — I never had bike shops, or anything like this. So, I come here, and I fix up bikes, and I give them to kids.”

Some of the bikes that Smith and the other volunteers built will go directly to children. But many go to groups like Our House.

“We’ve had a partnership with Recycle Bikes in the past,” Mattie Thacker, the Children’s Programs VISTA for Our House, said. “They help us get bikes, just to have here for our kids to ride, for our resident children to ride around on. So, they provide us with bikes, and when they break or need repairing, Recycle Bikes will come pick them up, and so it seemed like a natural fit for our holiday program, for them to work with us.”

Our House, which serves homeless and at-risk families, organizes an adopt-a-family program for Christmas each year. Nearly 150 families were adopted, and many of them had children who requested bicycles.

“We haven’t gotten this many bikes in the past,” Thacker said.

While donors purchased roughly 30 bikes for the children, another 60 came from Recycle Bikes.

"We have new clothes, new toys, new bikes, so our kids will be getting the best Christmas this year,” Thacker said.

Our House will hold an event on Saturday for all the parents to pick up the presents for their families. “It’s gonna be very emotional.” Thacker said. “I know parents will be crying, (there) will be laughter. I know the kids will be very excited.”

In addition to the bicycles it gives for Christmas, Recycle Bikes gives out bicycles year-round from its location at 717 E. 10th Street in North Little Rock. Adults can get a free bike, too, but they must earn it by fixing up bikes for kids, first.

Recycle Bikes hopes to provide even more repaired bicycles to the community in 2018 when it opens its second location. It plans to open a space inside First United Methodist Church at Seventh and Center streets in downtown Little Rock in July.