More than 75 children went to the bank Wednesday afternoon with their parents, but not to make a deposit or get a withdrawal. And they left with more than the usual lollipop.
Christmas came early for New Haven children as Charles “Chuck” Graeb, the founder of Bikes for Kids, distributed refurbished bicycles at New Haven Savings Bank at the corner of Elm and Church streets.
Graeb said the ultimate goal of the giveaway was not just to provide a way for the children to have fun, but to help raise their self-esteem.
“Sure, the kids use the bikes for pleasure,” Graeb said. “The purpose to the program is this — We want to show these needy children that somebody cares about them.”
Bikes for Kids gives away over 700 bicycles a year, Graeb said. He said he has also distributed bikes recently in Rockville, New London, Hartford, and other areas throughout the state. The program has been running for 13 years.
The bikes come from a variety of sources. People donate bicycles they have outgrown; bike retailers give ones they had accepted as trade-ins; and local police departments provide stolen bicycles they have recovered, Graeb said.
Graeb said the bikes were initially refurbished by men his age, but now he arranges to have high school students fix the bicycles in their schools’ metal shops as part of community service programs. Neighborhood community service organizations provide the names of the children to receive the bicycles.
“We work with a lot of families that can use a lot of things for the holidays,” said Lauren Weibrecht of the Clifford Beers Clinic, one of the agencies involved.
Carol Suber of the Youth Service Bureau said her office coordinates the lists of children to receive bikes. The program has served thousands of children, Suber said.
In addition to the bicycles, children received a Christmas ornament with their name written on it, a grab bag of other gifts, and a helmet. In the past, the bags have contained shirts, gloves and other items, Suber said. John Buckley and John Wynne, who call the program a “great idea,” have donated the helmets for the past five years.
The giveaway has been held at New Haven Savings Bank since Graeb approached his local branch of the bank and asked if they could help him find a location in New Haven.
“It’s another way of us just helping the community and giving back to the community,” said Gail Brathwaite, the bank’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.
The children there could barely contain their excitement, with many of them taking their new bikes for a spin before even leaving the lobby, stopping just long enough to get a helmet, and then riding it out the door.
“Its good,” Ariselys, one of the children receiving a bike said. “I like it.”
When asked about what he wanted to do, Daniel, another bike recipient, had a simple response.
“Ride it,” he said.
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