Dennis Blake will often see his handiwork when he’s out and about in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Blake is a volunteer with the Bikes for Farmworkers program and he has learned to recognize the bikes he and his fellow volunteers have worked on after they leave the group’s shop.
“We put reflectors on … so we recognize them, or at least I do,” Blake said as he worked on a bike that will one day wind up in the hands of one of the hundreds of migrant farm workers who come to NOTL each year.
“When I see them riding around, I recognize those bikes that came through this system.”
Blake, a retired renovator, is one of 15 volunteers with the program, a part of Gateway Community Church’s outreach initiative.
The volunteer group comes from all walks of life with a wide range of career backgrounds. They include retired tech workers, doctors, consultants, university professors and teachers.
His job in the renovation business meant Blake was used to getting his hands dirty. His path to becoming part of the Bikes for Farm Workers group started off innocently enough – through an ad in the newspaper.
“They were looking for help and I’ve been working on bicycles all my life, including a lot of motorcycles, so I’m mechanically inclined to begin with,” he said. “I could spare a little time and get some help for the farmworkers.”
There’s a certain amount of pride he feels knowing he is helping others.
“It’s good to help the community,” he said. “The guys really help us here. They leave their families behind for half a year.
Retired tech worker Gary Kapac said he has long been one to do his own repairs and that the Bikes for Farmworkers program is a good way to put his learned skills to good use.
“I’ve always been a hands-on handyman throughout my life and this is just a natural progression,” he said as he worked on a finicky gear-shift lever.
Sometimes, fixing the bicycles can be difficult, he said.
“The challenge is fixing old damaged bikes with old used parts,” he said.
“Some bikes that are not suited for the migrant workers (road bicycles with skinny tires) and we’ll fix those up and sell them and with the proceeds, buy new parts that we fix bikes with new parts.”
Co-ordinating the group is former NOTL fire chief Ken Eden, who says he is used to serving the community. He retired from the fire department in 2011 and is appreciative of all the volunteers who come out to help.
“We’ve been really blessed with great guys coming through the shop,” Eden said.
He joined the program early on, working with Mark Gaudet and Terry Weiner, spearheading the initiative, and has never looked back.
“I was looking for something to do hands-on. I like working with my hands,” Eden said.
“I really empathize with the migrant workers and so this was a great venue for me, and I just stuck with it.”
Since the program was established in 2016, demand for bikes and the numbers being donated has grown by leaps and bounds from 15 bikes repaired and 40 sold to 211 repaired and 361 sold this past summer.
“To be honest, we’re in a bit of a supply crunch right now,” Eden said. “But that’s pretty normal. Our supply goes up and down.
With that in mind, on Oct. 21, the group will be hosting a bicycle drop-off event at the shop, located inside the former Virgil Public School at 1665 Four Mile Creek Rd., from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The group is looking for adult-sized bicycles only, Eden said. Cash donations also are welcome.
Cheques can be made payable to Gateway Community Church, with instruction it be used for the Bikes for Farmworkers program.
Tax receipts will be issued during tax season for individual donations of more than $20.
More information on the program can be found at gatewaynotl.com/bikes.
Richard Hutton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report