Sometimes, Dan Steska needs to hurry if he wants to get a bike delivered in time.
The co-founder of the organization Bike to the Future was able to give a man a newly repaired bike just in time for him to get to his job interview on the same day. Steska said that he took the bike to a local homeless shelter, where he met the 57-year-old who had lost his license 10 years ago after going to prison.
Bike to the Future has now repaired and found new homes for 500 used bikes since 2016.
The Columbia-based group of volunteers gives used bikes a new life by donating them to locals who need a means of transportation. The organization reached the 500 mark this month.
To find new owners for the repaired bikes, Steska, works with different groups that direct the bikes to those who need them.
“There are people walking five or six miles to get to work,” he said. “And it’s cold, it’s rainy, it’s snowy, so even without a car, a bike would be so helpful.”
The organization is physically limited to a garage space behind the Community United Methodist Church on West Broadway. Volunteers have all the tools they need and about 30 bikes in various stages of repair.
Most of the bikes are personal donations from people that know about the project.
Anyone can volunteer by showing up at their shop on Monday or Tuesday mornings. Sid Popejoy, a retired chemist who always fixed his own bikes, has been helping since the beginning after he saw a sign at his church looking for people with experience in bike repair.
In his time there, he has taught a number of volunteers the basics of the craft. Although volunteers don’t have the chance to meet the final owners very often, Popejoy gets to see the faces of the people they are helping from time to time.
“They’re very grateful for it,” he said. “It’s very humbling.”
From his experience, Popejoy estimates that six in every 10 bikes that come their way are fixable.
So far, they have received over 650 bikes to repair. When it’s not possible, they are taken to recycling stations. The money that comes from those transactions is used to buy replacement parts and also helmets and locks, which are provided with every bike.
After he saw a similar organization in St. Louis, Steska came up with the idea to provide bikes to people who didn’t have access to transportation. At the time, he was still working for a prison ministry, where he noticed that this was one of the main issues for those in some kind of life transition.
“We got donations, grants, it all came together and it was really miraculous,” he said.
But the bikes also help those who are repairing them, many of them retired members of the community.
“It’s a great opportunity for retirees to give back to the community,” Steska said.
Once, a group of veterans stopped by to work on a bike as a form of therapy, he said.
As Popejoy mentioned, he wouldn’t have gotten to know his fellow volunteers — now friends he meets every Tuesday morning at the bike shop — if it weren’t for Bike to the Future.
Throughout the years, Steska said he has seen a lot of bikes come and go, and the 500th bike means a lot to him.
“I like to think of it not only as 500 bikes, but as 500 people.”