Triangle Spokes Group gives 550 bikes to kids from needy families

sgilman@newsobserver.comDecember 18, 2013 

  • How to help

    Online, go to:

    By check, made out to Triangle Spokes Group, mailed to: Attn: Ashley Wilson, 2109 Hopeton Ave., Raleigh, NC 27614

  • A big gift

    A week ago Thursday, the Salvation Army did not have gifts for about 1,600 children participating in the organization’s Angel Tree program, because they had not been adopted. That changed on Friday, when the Salvation Army received a call from an anonymous donor who wrote a check for $50,000 – enough to purchase clothing for all the remaining children.

    “Just incredible,” said the Salvation Army’s Lizzy Adams.

    She and nine other volunteers spent that weekend shopping for the clothing in a variety of sizes. They had enough toys already, she said.

— Harmony Williams waited in line at the Salvation Army warehouse on New Bern Avenue on Wednesday morning, hoping for a bicycle for her 12-year-old daughter.

Williams had already selected free toys for her two children and picked up her black plastic bag of presents purchased by donors through the Angel Tree program. Now she approached a table run by the local nonprofit Triangle Spokes Group, where she had a chance to win a free bike.

“She’s been wanting a bike for a long time because her friends all have bikes,” Williams said of her daughter. “I haven’t gotten her one, and that’s my fault.”

It was the second day of the Salvation Army’s three-day Christmas Cheer Program, where thousands of families received gifts for their children. Paired with one of the Salvation Army volunteers, clients selected two or three age-appropriate toys and received their bags from the Angel Tree. Those with children ages 7 to 12 could to win a bike lottery-style at the Triangle Spokes Group table.

Not everyone went home with a bike. The group had 550 bikes for the three-day giveaway, and the Salvation Army was set to help 8,707 children. A computer program spaced the bike giveaways throughout the three days, keeping clients on their toes, and leaving some disappointed.

With smiles on their faces, clients took turns clicking the spacebar on a keyboard that spun the lottery wheel on the computer screen. Some won a bike, while others came away with a toy or a candy cane.

“Everyone wants a bike,” said Rich Nowalk, husband of the group’s cofounder, Jenn Nowalk. “It gives them freedom to get out, join their friends, go further than they’ve gone before.”

Jenn Nowalk said the shortage motivated her to keep increasing the number of bikes they give away each year.

“You realize there are a lot of kids going home without a new bike this year, and it makes you want to do more,” she said.

Founded in 2007, Triangle Spokes Group teamed up with the Salvation Army to deliver bikes to needy families. It gave away 200 bikes that first year, but donations kept growing and allowed the group to purchase more bikes. It has now given away 2,600 bikes to needy families.

The group orders the bikes in August from Huffy with a 50 percent downpayment for each $70 bike and helmet set. The group has until the end of the year to pay the rest; if it doesn’t get enough donations, the members pay the extra themselves.

“That’s the leap of faith that Ashley and I have to take,” Jenn Nowalk said of her and cofounder Ashley Wilson. “Right now we are still needing about $5,000 to get the rest of the bikes paid for.”

Triangle Spokes Group is the local chapter of the Charlotte-based nonprofit The Spokes Group, run by Wilson’s brother-in-law. That organization has given away more than 27,000 bikes since its founding 20 years ago.

As he stood by the group’s table Wednesday, Rich Nowalk talked about the impact the bikes will have in the community.

“It’s more about giving back to kids,” he said. “They say that one bike affects three kids because it’s shared or passed down or up.”

Williams at last reached the computer and pressed the space bar. The wheel spun, and halted at a space marked “Bicycle.”

She and volunteer Mark Jackson cheered, and another volunteer rolled out a brand new Huffy bicycle for Williams to take home.

“Freedom, right?” asked Nowalk.

“Yes,” Williams responded. They high-fived.

Gilman: 919-829-8955

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