Wheels keep turning at bicycle nonprofit
By Lou Fancher
For a kid growing up without much stuff, a bike is freedom. To a parent bringing home the very first bike to a son or daughter, it’s a chance to play the hero.
Volunteers with the Adopt-A-Family Bike Program, based at St. Timothy’s Church in Danville, have helped make that scene a reality hundreds of times. The fix-and-give bike program that began in 2002 delivered 45 bikes to children and adults living in disadvantaged circumstances. This year, volunteers will refurbish and distribute about 300 bikes throughout the Bay Area.
Joseph Hui, of Danville, has volunteered with the nonprofit for 10 years and experienced the many facets of bike ownership. Growing up in Stockton as the youngest of seven boys in a family situation he describes as troubled, Hui and two of his brothers spent much of their childhood in the foster care system.
“It was mostly at institutions at first,” says Hui. “A bicycle at Mary Graham Hall was a fun diversion. When I eventually had a bike of my own, it was a way to leave my troubles behind.”
At age 12, Hui and his brothers were placed with foster parents. “I was lucky, I was there until I was emancipated,” he says, referring to when a child reaches 18 and leaves the system.
He said his foster parents were good to him. “It motivates me now. I benefited from a good Catholic school education, entirely free. I had a sense of what it means to be community-oriented. It’s a big world, but there are people who live to help people who are in trouble.”
After graduating from San Jose State University, Hui went on to become a software engineer at Oracle. He and his wife, Mimi Hui, have two children, Sandra, 22, a computational biology Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley, and Theo, 14, a freshman at Monte Vista High School who plays percussion in the music program.
Hui is an avid cyclist whose participation in the annual, 550-mile AIDS/LifeCycle trek is capped at three times only due to a neck injury. “I’m limited to 40 miles now. My favorite ride is Marin Headlands. You get to the top, and the view — it makes you appreciate the Bay Area.”
But on a Saturday afternoon in December, the family is in a large commercial space in Alamo Plaza, working with a dozen other volunteers to repair bikes.
“My dad used to tell me about growing up. He had it a lot harder than I do,” says Theo. “I’m helping him give back. My mom does a lot of the logistics. She’s definitely an important part too.”
Theo says that fixing bikes is relaxing and better than just playing videos. He remembers one trip to deliver about 20 bikes to kids in low-income families. “The parents were all taking pictures. For some of the kids, it was the only thing they were going to get for Christmas.”
His father remembers another time when a boy who’d never owned a bike with hand brakes took off, then found himself unable to stop. “He was peddling backward frantically. I ran and caught him and taught him how to brake. The smile when he realized he got to keep the bike — that’s what makes it all special.”
David Struck is a founder of the program. In 2001, he noticed a flyer posted at Baldwin Elementary School where his children were students. Tania Hanson DeYoung, the Adopt-A-Family coordinator at St. Timothy’s, answered Struck’s call offering to donate bikes and his question, about who fixed the bikes they accepted.
“It was a couple of old ladies with a bottle of 409 and a tire pump,” he says.
Struck, now an energy engineer, had put himself through school with income from working at bike shops in San Luis Obispo.
“I said I’d fix the bikes. This is a program we took to another level. Why do I do it? Because it’s fun, and I’m good at it.”
Struck also has a heartwarming story.
“We were set up with our bike repair shop next to a pizza parlor. A young guy who buses tables there sticks his head in the door and asks if he can buy a few bikes for his kids. He’s a father of three, works three jobs. I told him to come after work and I’d set him up with bikes. His co-workers told us later that we’d just made this guy’s life. That was cool.”
Local bike shops — Danville Bikes, California Pedaler and 6Fifteen Cyclery — frequently donate trade-ins and offer parts at cost. Hui says parent-child clubs, Scouts and other community groups often participate in cleaning and repairing the bikes. Struck says it’s empowering for a teenager to know how to fix his or her bike.
The November-December program stopped accepting bike donations Dec. 4, but Hui has started another program of his own. Last year, he repaired and donated 17 bikes to former foster kids who are incoming students at San Francisco State, his alma mater.
Says co-founder Struck: “Our whole goal is to make the bikes fun and safe to ride. Anything else is a bonus.”