It’s a happy story from just across the river in Ironton that is sure to lift your holiday spirits. It is a tale about how the plan of a manager of one Ironton business to giveaway two bicycles at Christmas grew in just three years to a citywide program giving away more than 200 bicycles to needy children.
The bike giveaway began three years ago when Don Schwartz, manager of the Ironton Advance Auto Parts, decided the business would buy two bicycles for Christmas and hung them in the store’s display window, along with boy and girl donations boxes.
John Dickess, owner of nearby Dickess Auto Repair, told Schwartz two bikes were simply not enough, instantly doubling the giveaway by adding two more bikes.
Just three years later, Schwartz and Dickess found themselves surrounded by more than 700 packed inside the Ro-Na Theater giving away more than 200 bikes to boys and girls.
But the donations didn’t end with last Saturday’s giant giveaway at the partially restored downtown theater. Schwartz said as long as money continues to roll in, they will keep buying bikes for families through Christmas and into January.
Winners of the bicycle raffle were chosen from the pile of names submitted into the boy/girl donation boxes set up in the windows of Advance Auto Parts and Dickess Auto Repair. Bikes were given out according to age and gender.
The money and support trickles in from several avenues in the community, from individuals to businesses.
Schwartz said a man visited Dickess’ store three times asking about the donation, recalling memories of his first bicycle. A short time after, he returned with a $1,000 check.
Charlie’s Tire Sales, Inc., asked for $1 extra with each tire change throughout the year and surprised Schwartz with a $1,000 check to help fund the bike charity.
Those who could not give money contributed something just as valuable — time. Schwartz said there were at least 25 volunteers at the theater on Saturday.
Though they greatly surpassed this year’s original goal of obtaining 200 bikes by getting 220, the two men still did not have enough to meet the number of submissions. Therefore, Schwartz and Dickess created a number drawing for those who were not selected and gave away the rest.
Schwartz said he and Dickess initially contacted 11 local institutions asking for the names of families in need during the holidays and supplied bicycles for all the children in those households and distributed what was left through the raffle.
As donations continue to come into the stores, Schwartz said he and Dickess will continue to contact families of children who went home empty-handed Saturday to try to put new bikes under their Christmas trees.
Giving away bikes is a philanthropy fairly unique to the Ironton community, inspired by the rush of emotions and memories associated with Schwartz’ childhood days. “Everyone remembers their first bike,” he said.
But giving out the bikes can go further than just inspiring those first feelings of freedom in children. Last year, Schwartz learned of a boy with a paralytic disease that had left him unable to ride his bike. When Schwartz found out the boy’s doctor was positive the youth would eventually use his legs again, Schwartz presented the boy with a challenge.
As his grandmother stood by the boy’s wheelchair in the Ironton High School gymnasium, Schwartz said, “I'm going to give you this bike, and I better see you riding it by my store soon.”
Schwartz said it truly touched his heart when the boy rode that bike to Advance soon thereafter to celebrate his recovery.
Now that’s the kind of story people love, and thanks to Don Schwartz’s rather simple plan to give away two bikes at his Ironton business more than 200 Ironton kids now have their own happy stories about getting a bike for Christmas. Don Schwartz. John Dickess and every one else who made the bike giveaway possible can rest in the assurance that they have made this Christmas a little brighter for needy children in the community.