Police agencies donate bikes to nonprofit to benefit kids, adults in need
by Kate Jackobson - Sun Sentinel - Jack Hairston has spent the last 17 years playing around with bikes.
The West Palm Beach man isn't your average gear head. Hairston runs a nonprofit called Jack the Bike Man, aimed at giving donated bikes to children and adults who can't afford their own.
A portion of those bikes, he said, comes from law enforcement agencies.
Hairston received 38 bikes in need of a little care from the Boynton Beach Police Department on Feb. 4, one of many departments that hand over unclaimed bikes just sitting in evidence.
"It gets a lot of bikes to us," Hairston said. "It makes my volunteers happy, too, because they're the ones that get to clean them up."
Hairston has been refurbishing bikes and giving them away to children and adults in need since 1999. The bikes come from everywhere: condo associations who find abandoned bikes on bike racks, families who have children that have outgrown their bikes, residents looking to give back.
Police agencies give Jack the Bike Man hundreds of bikes a year. The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and agencies in Boynton Beach, North Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, to name a few, all donate bikes periodically.
Palm Beach County Sheriff's spokeswoman Teri Barbera said the agency donates bikes every month to Jack the Bike Man. Since the beginning of the year, they have donated 26 bikes.
Departments collect bikes in a variety of ways. Some are ones they find that have been stolen, others are confiscated as part of evidence in a case. Agencies will hold a bike for a certain number of days, depending on how they've acquired it, and will wait for a possible owner to show up and claim it.
Barbera said the agency will hold bikes they find for 90 days. Bikes involved in cases will be held until 30 days after the case closes.
Boynton Beach Police Officer Eric Reynolds said the department will hold the bikes for up to 90 days before they can give the bikes away. People who have had their bikes stolen or misplaced can claim their bikes by providing a serial number, but he said that only happens about a third of the time.
"We get so many bicycles because [people] don't keep their serial numbers, so there's no way to get them back," Reynolds said.
Some of the bikes are randomly found, Reynolds said. Others are used in crimes and taken into evidence after suspects are arrested.
Once the appropriate amount of time has passed — and the bike locker gets full — Reynolds said he and other officers in the evidence unit load them up and take them to Jack the Bike Man.
Reynolds said it's satisfying to know officers can give a bike that might've been involved in a crime and turn its use into something positive.
"I like the fact that we can give a bike to someone who might not have been able to afford it," he said.
After Hairston gets the bikes, he calls on a team of volunteers to fix them up. He gets about 5,000 bikes a year, he said, and sells about 1,000 to help cover operational costs. Other costs are covered by monetary donations, which the group accepts year-round.
The other bikes are given to children or adults who might not be able to afford bikes, but need them.
A lot of his bikes go to homeless people or low income workers who have no alternative means to transportation, he said.
"It can change someone's life completely," Hairston said. "To be able to have a bicycle to get you to work, the doctor, the grocery store or wherever you have to go, its life-changing."
Many of his volunteers are people who have received bikes themselves and want to give back. One of his employees, Joel Solis, 21, said he received a bike from Hairston when he was a little kid.
Solis fondly remembered riding around on his bike, cruising the streets and having fun: typical kid stuff, he said. When he was old enough to volunteer, he decided to give back. Now, as an adult, he works with Jack the Bike Man full-time.
"I come here, and I help them out, and it makes me feel happy," Solis said. "As long as there is a happy child out there with a smile on his face, it makes me happy."
firstname.lastname@example.org, 561-243-6547 or Twitter @katejacobson