We've all walked or driven past a trash pile in a neighborhood and seen bicycles dumped curb side, heading to the landfill for near eternity. Some are rusty, but others are not.
Regardless, the scene always reminds me that we in the United States remain, for the most part, a disposable society.
And for one reason or another, bike owners don't take the bikes to Goodwill or find some other purpose.
Now Porter-Gaud School is offering another alternative to giving unwanted bikes a second, perhaps more purposeful, life.
Earlier this school year, Middle School Dean Chris Tate started a local chapter of Bicycles for Humanity, a nonprofit that collects old bikes and ships them to Africa, where they are repaired and distributed to people in rural areas.
Tate, who is active in Habitat for Humanity, took action after seeing a bike in a trash pile.
“Last spring (2012), I was driving home from work and it was a big garbage day. Someone had tossed out a bike, a perfectly good bike. I picked it up and thought I'd take it to Goodwill. But by the time I got home, I had three bikes. I thought, This is ridiculous.' ”
Tate went online, read about Bicycles for Humanity, contacted the organizer and kicked off Porter-Gaud's effort last fall.
In January, parent Alicia Lovell joined the effort and it took off.
Over the course of the school year, students collected 200 bikes and held fundraisers to help pay the shipping cost, estimated at $3,000.
Last week, students partially disassembled the bikes for shipment. And today, a truck filled with 300 bikes from Bicycles for Humanity Atlanta will arrive. The two groups will make up 500 bikes that are headed to Namibia later this week.
But that's just the start.
Lovell and her daughters, eighth-grader Ali and sixth-grader Juliette, spearheaded the creation of a T-shirt to help sustain the effort in the future.
The black T-shirt shows the map of Africa made up of images of bicycles on the front and the Bicycles for Humanity logo on the back. The shirt is made of a thin, soft fabric, the kind that most T-shirt snobs like myself will always reach for first when rifling through my chest of drawers in the morning.
Lovell is selling the shirt for $20 at Salty Girl's and East Cooper Sporting Goods in Mount Pleasant and The Co-op on Sullivan's Island, and is looking for other willing outfitters to sell it. All the money goes to shipping the bikes.
She and Tate also hope to hold fundraisers at Dunleavy's Pub on Sullivan's Island and Smoky Oak Taproom on James Island later this year.
And ultimately, they envision Bicycles for Humanity Charleston to be a communitywide event with local bike shops being among the partners in the cause.
So why not fix the bikes and give them to those in need in Charleston?
Frankly, bikes are more valuable, and likely more valued, in Africa, where in rural areas people often have to walk for hours to get water, health care and education. Anyone who has biked and walked a few miles knows the difference in time it takes.
“These bikes can change their lives,” Tate says.
To possible critics who may say Bicycles for Humanity is just spending money and burning fuel to get bikes to Africa to eventually be dumped anyway, Tate has an answer.
“We are creating an economy around transportation and increasing the standard of living tenfold,” he says, noting that locals in Africa are trained to repair bikes and that containers used to deliver the bikes remain behind and are retrofitted into bike shops.
The Bicycles for Humanity “Bicycles Empowerment Model” seeks to create “microeconomies around mobility.”
The effort also pays dividends by providing middle school students with valuable, hands-on lessons in an array of areas.
“First, it opened our eyes to see how many bikes people would throw away,” Juliette Lovell says.
“I didn't think about that before. When someone gets a new bike, what happens to the old one? Lots of people had bikes in their garages.”
She adds that the effort not only saves a bike from a landfill but will help improve someone's life in a sustainable, eco-friendly way.
Sixth-grader Victoria Mabe and others attested that all the students learned more about how bikes are put together simply by having to disassemble them.
She added, “We also learned that it's really hard to take apart rusty parts.”
And sixth-grader Grant Harley learned that not everyone is fortunate enough to take bikes for granted.
“We usually think of bikes as replaceable, but in Africa, they usually don't have enough money to buy the bikes in the first place. So we'll just send them to Africa.”
Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.