GARNER — Armed with wrenches and screwdrivers, a small army of kids attacked 25 crates full of disassembled bicycles Saturday — twisting screws, tightening bolts and gritting their teeth with strained patience.
When they finished, they hopped their knobby-tired creations and rode circles around a Garner parking lot, some of them taking their first-ever spin on a set of wheels.
The excitement showed clear on the face of Maria Reyes, 11, who sported a new helmet with her name printed on the side. Her last bike, after all, got run over by a car.
“This one’s really good,” she said, flipping down the kickstand. “I like to keep it steady.”
Her prize came through National Build-a-Bike Day, an event put on by Golden State Foods, a global company with a distribution center in Garner. For the second year, GSF handed out several hundred bikes to kids from Boys and Girls Clubs across the country.
The bikes came packed in crates, some assembly required, and the kids gathered at a Penske Truck Rental lot to wrestle them into one piece. Mentors assisted where needed.
“They get to put the pedals and the seats on, and the handlebars on,” said Jim Brooks, general manager for GSF in Garner. “It gives them a sense of ownership. This is their bike. They built it.”
Kids from six local Boys and Girls Clubs in Wake County got chosen to take home a bike, said clubs Vice President Hugh McLean.
Criteria for being one of the chosen 25 included good behavior and grades. “Kids you’d like to see have a bike,” McLean said. “And this way, they get a little skin in the game. Kids get some tools in their hands.”
The gift saw many kids on Saturday wobbling around the parking lot, knees and elbows flying, crashing and remounting, helpers jogging along behind them. No matter if you’re 6 or 11, you’ve got to resist dropping your feet and master the pedal brake.
If they’d had a bike before, many of the kids were nursing old wounds over losing them. Reyes lost hers when she left it at the side of the road.
Leslie Zoya, 7, lost her old bike to heartlessness.
“It got stolen,” she said. “It was outside because it had mud on the wheels.”
Her new bike came equipped with a combination lock, which she practiced Saturday between rides, foiling future thieves.
Boys and Girls Clubs provide after-school and summer programs that focus on healthy living, academic help and character building. Its seven clubs countywide, including a teen center, serve more than 4,700 members and target the underprivileged.
Zoya and Reyes, who both attend Washington GT Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, called the project a snap. A little sweat doesn’t matter with a new bike when it’s finished.
“I got to use the screwdriver,” Reyes said. “It was easy since I got help.”
Shaffer: (919) 829-4818