In a normal year, the Lincoln Bike Kitchen would be bustling as the winter weather gives way to sunny spring afternoons. Volunteers from the community would pack the warehouse on First Street, prepping bicycles for the local community.
But, as with most organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bike Kitchen, which is a volunteer bicycle repair shop, has had to switch gears. The nonprofit organization has not maintained its normal capacity since the start of the pandemic, but that has not stopped the folks behind the operation from spreading support to their community.
The volunteers of the LBK have shifted from individual bike donations to a school-based system. People will get in touch with a community learning coordinator, or CLC, from a local elementary or middle school and ask them if there’s a need for bicycles.
“We’ve had connections with a lot of schools for a while, so going this route wasn’t that big of a leap,” said Clayton Streich, a Lincoln Bike Kitchen volunteer. “We get in contact with a school’s CLC, and they’ll request how many bikes they need. We’ll toss that number on the board and get to work.”
The system of operations has aided LBK in reaching families in need of assistance. Many of the schools already know which families in their systems are struggling, and rather than having to reach out to a nonprofit, the school can serve as a middleman for the Bike Kitchen and a child in need, cutting out a step in the process for the volunteers.
“Before the pandemic, the process of connecting a fixed bike with the people that needed them was difficult,” volunteer Annette Thompson said. “We’re not set up to do that type of filtering, but the schools already do that. They work with these families that need help. We’re comfortable with them, knowing that they will get the bikes where they need to go.”
Sheri Quirie, the community learning coordinator at Brownell Elementary School, recently picked up 10 bikes for her students.
“We’ve worked with them a handful of times,” Quirie said. “They have a great relationship with the CLCs in the Lincoln area, and when they have an abundance of bikes, they let us know and we can get them to families who need them.”
Streich said the kitchen has been able to produce a steady stream of bikes as restrictions have loosened. As the volunteers receive their vaccinations, they can be in the kitchen more frequently and with a few more sets of hands to refurbish and donate bikes to the community.
“For a while it would just be two of us out here at a time, doing what we can,” Streich said. “But as we’ve gone along here we can get a few more people in here at a time to fix up bikes and get them where they need to go. Many of us are vaccinated now, so we feel more comfortable being around one another.”
Quirie said LBK gives local children a sense of freedom during the pandemic in the form of transportation. The lessons the children learn from caring for their bikes will hopefully translate into their teenage years and adulthood.
“It gives the kids a sense of independence,” Quirie said. “It gives them the freedom to ride their bikes to the playground, school or just somewhere other than home. It teaches them bike safety, which will turn into vehicle safety. It’s just good for a child to know how to care for a bicycle.”
For the volunteers at the Bike Kitchen, giving back to the community is the main goal. The organization is non-profit, and they never charge a child for a bicycle. All operations run on donations. People looking to support LBK can either donate to their cause at LincolnBikeKitchen.org. However, a more practical donation is simply an old bicycle.
“We’re always accepting donations of bicycles,” Streich said. “That’s the best way to get involved at this time. But as soon as we can get people back in here to start fixing up bikes, like before all this happened, we sure will. We can’t wait for that to happen.”