RALEIGH — 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.
Shes been wanting a bike for a long time because her friends all have bikes, Williams said of her daughter. I havent gotten her one, and thats my fault.
It was the second day of the Salvation Armys 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 groups cofounder, Jenn Nowalk. It gives them freedom to get out, join their friends, go further than theyve 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 doesnt get enough donations, the members pay the extra themselves.
Thats 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 Wilsons brother-in-law. That organization has given away more than 27,000 bikes since its founding 20 years ago.
As he stood by the groups table Wednesday, Rich Nowalk talked about the impact the bikes will have in the community.
Its more about giving back to kids, he said. They say that one bike affects three kids because its 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.