Whether he comes by boat or by sleigh, Santa Claus is likely to deliver quite a few bicycles to Destin this Christmas.
For some Destin residents, however, they rely on bicycles as transportation all year round. That’s why St. Andrews Episcopal Church volunteers tinker in their own workshop 52 weeks a year, refurbishing, repairing and replacing bikes for the needy of Northwest Florida.
“We work with used bikes and if we can’t rebuild it, we’ll used the parts to make three new bikes,” said Rick McIntosh, a five-year volunteer. “It started with just 65 bikes about 12 years ago.”
Nowadays, the courtyard at St. Andrews holds over 5,000 bicycles waiting to be gifted to their new owners. The bikes are free, McIntosh said, unless individuals want to give a donation to the program.
The only requirement is registering through St. Andrew’s program, Blue Door, and signing a policy against alcohol and drug use on church property.
“Once you’re registered you get one free bike every 6 months,” McIntosh said. “If you’re not needy or homeless, you can get one of our higher-end bikes for a recommended donation. If you donate a bike, you can get a tax write-off for what the bike is worth.”
St. Andrews has donated 1,388 bikes so far this year.
On Monday, McIntosh worked diligently on a Granite Peak Roadmaster, a beat up bicycle brought into the shop for repairs. He said the repair work keeps the volunteers busy, especially when preparing for next year’s crew of international students.
“The international students put down a $50 deposit, refundable for the safe return of our bikes in rideable condition,” McIntosh said. “But, we give them $500 bicycles.”
Donors aren’t stingy with the types of bikes donated, according to the volunteers. McIntosh showed off a line of bikes in the workshop, some valued up to $5,000. He said the program posts those bicycles on eBay and uses the cash to fund the program.
McIntosh said there are several success stories of the homeless finding jobs and moving into stable housing because of the bike program. He said it’s stories like those that make all of the hard work worth it.
“We help those in need, that’s pretty much what our ministry is about,” McIntosh said. “We don’t call it a ‘hand out,’ we call it a ‘hand up.’”