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Foster kids get free bikes thanks to Vergennes nonprofit

VERGENNES/MIDDLEBURY — Little City Cycles owner Tim Mathewson has seen people toss away hundreds of bikes during his 40 years repairing the machines. Some of them only needed a new tire, chain or a little tender loving care to remain road worthy.
Mathewson rescues copious numbers of bicycles from the scrap heap; and, crucially, he possesses the knowledge and skill to fix them up and give them new homes.
“These bikes… are like foster bikes,” Mathewson said during a Tuesday interview.
Now those foster bikes are being rolled out for foster kids, thanks to the efforts of Mathewson and his Little City Cycles colleague Tanya Bashaw. The pair established “Green Mountain Foster Bikes” four years ago. The nonprofit turns grants, cash, bicycle donations and volunteer labor into free, fully functional bikes for children navigating a rough stretch in their young lives.
Mathewson hopes the children who receive the bikes experience same sense of unbridled joy and independence he felt as a youth riding around his neighborhood.
“I still ride my bicycle for transportation, health and happiness,” Mathewson writes in an intro on the website greenmountainfosterbikes.org.
“As I work at my bike shop, Little City Cycles, I learn about the different needs of the riders,” he writes. “These needs are wonderfully varied and have led me to notice the foster child population in Vermont. With the realization of the need comes my desire to fulfill it.”
He and Bashaw have fulfilled it to the tune of 50 bikes donated to foster kids since the nonprofit’s launch. They’ve done it on a piecemeal basis. Mathewson has contacts at the Vermont Department for Children & Families, which occasionally sends foster families to Little City Cycles in Vergennes to pick out a “foster bike.”
Mathewson judiciously taps donations for any materials he and fellow volunteers need to put cast-off bikes into working order. Repairs include a major modification aimed at increasing the lifespan of the bike: old cables and gears are stripped away, turning it into what Mathewson calls “a simple, one-speed coaster brake bicycle.”
“The coaster brake bicycles we deliver only need oil on the chain and air in the tires to stay ready for service for years to come,” he explained.
There are typically a handful of finished foster bikes available at Little City Cycles at any given time. If demand exceeds supply, eligible children go on a waiting list.
But supply shouldn’t be an issue at what will be Green Mountain Foster Bikes’ first ever giveaway event, slated for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Saturday, May 18, at the Middlebury recreation field off Creek Road. The nonprofit will have more than 40 bikes available for qualifying foster children who are recommended by DCF. Along with their bike, each recipient gets a free helmet, rag and oil, and a pump and a lock (if needed).
The giveaway will be a community event, providing wider exposure for a program that could use more donations and helpers. Live music, food and beverages will be provided.
Anyone able to donate or volunteer for the foster bikes cause should seek out Mathewson at the May 18 event or visit greenmountainfosterbikes.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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