Children from families on the Harbor who are low-income or experiencing other hardships have a chance to get a new bicycle this summer, thanks to some of the incarcerated men at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

The Aberdeen Lions Club is working with the Salvation Army to give away bicycles to children in qualifying families from now through September.

Families interested in receiving a bicycle can fill out an application at the Salvation Army’s social services office, 120 W. Wishkah St. in Aberdeen, between noon and 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Aberdeen Lions Club members Gene Schermer (left) and Bob Braden (right) watch as a recipient of the Bicycles from Heaven program test rides their new bike June 12.

The bikes come from Stafford Creek Corrections Center’s Bicycles from Heaven program. Incarcerated individuals in the program restore old bikes to like-new condition. Police departments and community members donate old bikes. The Lions Club and Salvation Army donate the repaired bicycles to children in the community.

Historically, the Lions Club distributes bikes from the Bicycles from Heaven program around Christmas. But with the COVID-19 government-mandated stay-at-home order disrupting school, preventing children from seeing friends and postponing or cancelling family get-togethers, event organizers wanted to hold a special event to bring some joy into kids’ lives.

“The Aberdeen Lions are proud to manage this program,” said Gene Schermer, chair of the Aberdeen Lions Club’s bike committee. “We like the win-win aspect of used bikes being recycled and given to children receiving a new bike, while incarcerated individuals learn a new skills and experience satisfaction of doing something positive for the community.”

Bicycles from Heaven started in 2003. It distributes bikes to children in Grays Harbor and north Pacific counties. The program usually has around seven incarcerated individuals at a time. The group typically restores between 100 and 200 bicycles per year. Applications for the regular holiday Bicycles from Heaven program are open year round. However, the summer giveaway runs through Sept. 1.

A restored bicycle on display at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Alt Text: Bike mounted in a prison bike shop
A restored bicycle on display at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

No taxpayer dollars are used in the program. Its funding comes from the Grays Harbor Community Foundation, local Lion’s clubs, the Grays Harbor Community Foundation and community donations.

Prison officials say this charity project has as much of an impact on the incarcerated individuals as it does on bike recipients.

“They take great pride in their work,” said Kelly Peterson, a corrections specialist at Stafford Creek. “Some, being fathers themselves, know how much a bike means to a child. This pride is shown in the work that they do.”

Mitchell Nunn, one of the incarcerated participants in the Bicycles from Heaven program, said the experience has given him a sense of purpose.

“Building bikes for kids makes me feel like every day spent here (in prison) is not a waste, but a positive opportunity to give back for past mistakes,” Nunn said.

The Lions Club held its first summer bike giveaway June 12. The Lions Club schedules individual appointments with families to receive their bikes and allow for social distancing. The Lions Club will hold periodic bike giveaways like this one throughout the summer.

The Salvation Army selects the recipients. The Lions Club will notify families who applied if their child or children will receive a bicycle and provide instructions for pickup. Youths 18 and younger may apply. Anyone over 18 who has no mode of transportation and could benefit from a bike may apply as well. If you have any questions about the application process, contact the Salvation Army at 360-533-1062.

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About Stafford Creek Corrections Center: Stafford Creek Corrections Center is an all-male adult medium-custody facility located on 210 acres in Aberdeen, Wash. It has been continuously operated since 2000. Total facility average daily population is 1,962.