Davidson “Santa” Gives Needy Kids The Wheels to Roll
One of the most generous Santas around lives in Davidson. How generous? This year Andy Beard and his Spokes Groups charity will need to hire a sleigh that can hold 2,075 bicycles for children with needy families!
It began 24 years ago when Andy responded to the call of the Christmas spirit, packed up a few toys, and delivered them to the Salvation Army. While there, he watched a client jump and leap for joy on receiving a bicycle for her child. Andy remembers thinking, “If the cost of a bike could make somebody that happy, there are a lot of people in this county who have lots of money to buy bikes and make other households happy.”
He organized a bike drive within his company, 401K Administrators of the Carolinas, that financed 17 bikes. The next year he challenged one of his friends, Richard Dunn, to a “buy-a-bike duel” and they did 35. And the enterprise just grew and grew! They reached a major milestone when Andy challenged Richard to join him in financing 2,000 bikes in year 2000. Since that time, the yield has constantly achieved between 1,500 and 2,500. Their current 24th season increased their overall lifetime total to 46,450 bikes!
“It’s been successful in part because everybody remembers their own first bike. My first bike, I think, was a Schwinn, and I can picture my dad finally letting me go. I went down the sidewalk and crashed, skinning my knee. Learning to ride a bike is an iconic rite of passage for children. Also, our board has always primarily consisted of sales people, and our goal has been to keep things as simple as possible.”
Spokes Group raises the funds to pay for the bikes, and leaves the vetting of clients and distribution of the bikes to the Salvation Army Christmas Bureau, currently located in an unused former Wal Mart store on Old Pineville Road in Charlotte. A half-dozen long rows of tightly tucked bikes line one side of the facility.
“We partner primarily with the Salvation Army Christmas Bureau as a means to distributing the bikes to the kids. They vet all the people. It’s a simple concept. We order the bikes in September, raise the money in late October.
“We were just asking our vendors, friends, and associates if they’d buy a bike. We started competing with a neighboring firm, Dick Dunn and Associates, and challenged them to do 2,000 in the year 2000. That was a huge leap, and the effort caught the attention of The Charlotte Observer and had a front page on the weekly papers around here.
“We set the goal and then raise the money. We’ve partnered with Huffy Bicycles for a number of years. The cost on average is about $50 per bike. Then there’s $8 for shipping, and $5 for assembly, and $5 for a helmet. We have two sizes, 20 and 26 inches in boys’ and girls’ configurations. The overall cost is $70 or so. Since Day One, every penny donated buys bikes and helmets. There’s no administrative cost.
“We have a branch in both Raleigh and Charleston, and had a one-time effort in Atlanta organized by a couple who were getting married and instead of wedding presents wanted people to make donations to Spokes Group. They got 178 bikes.
“The salvation army opens its Christmas Bureau doors in October, and mothers come by to register. They give a gift wish list to their children. We’ve gotten so much positive publicity through the years that a lot of them will put a bike on their Angel Tree wish list. Lots of businesses and churches will sponsor, and angel tree individuals from all around can pick those wish lists off the angel tree. In a four-day period, the mothers are scheduled to come to the Christmas Bureau and pick up their gifts – toys, food certificates, and many other things. If they didn’t get the bike on their wish list, the wheel is there and if it lands on a bike, they can get one that way, too.
“The wheel has been there since before us. Given the number of bikes available, we try for people in the last shift to have as good a chance as those in the first shift. We staff the wheel and spin it. Participants’ excitement in spinning that wheel and winning a bike really pulls your heart strings. We’ve had such grand publicity that we’ll do 1600-1700 bikes via the wheel. There’ll be another 1,000 as angel tree bikes. That’s 2,800 bikes a year that go into the community via the Christmas bureau.
“We have other partners — Right Moves for Youth, St. Matthews Catholic Church elementary school, and United Way of Gaston County.
“Our problem now is finding enough applicants for the bikes. This is such a prosperous town, there’s no limit to what you can do. My son, Will, is now the chair of the nine-person board. He’s a financial consultant for Wells Fargo. Dick Dunn’s son, Richard, is also now directing the effort.
“The first year my company competed with Dick’s company, Kim and I were involved with the DCPC senior highs, and we decided we’d get that group to assemble our bikes. Dick had someone come in and assemble his. Those efforts didn’t work so well. Now, we hire a professional assembler for all our cities and pay them per bike. You should see these guys – that’s a real show. Ian Coleman is our chief assembler.”
Andy has lived in Davidson since 1979, and is now pretty much retired from his career in insurance and employee benefits, called 401 K Administrators of the Carolinas. He sold that business and now has Benecytes, primarily building and maintaining employee benefits web sites for companies. His daughter, Hunter Busse, and her family also live in Davidson.
“I plan to continue indefinitely. It’s too much fun not to. It’s a joy to see other people become involved and light up. My role now is making suggestions, and raising money. Will is the chief in charge. All the time and commitment come in the last two weeks. We have a lunch every Christmas season and invite people to come in. It’s a lighthearted event that weatherman Larry Sprinkle emcees. It’s such a compelling sight to see the bikes all lined up and is an effective way to get people involved. That’s scheduled for December 6.
“Spokes Group is really about raising money rather than organizing bike giveaways. Several years ago, the Salvation Army began to cost-share with us, and we also have a cost share agreement with the police department. They are doing 150 bikes, but only paying for 75. Our purchasing power is an asset. We always talk in terms of bikes, rather than dollars. I don’t get tired of it. Our board members’ job is to raise money, absolutely. We’ve got nine people raising money to buy 2075 bikes.”
Another way the bikes are used is by a fellow Davidsonian, Frank Bragg. He started “Right Moves” and they use the bikes as rewards in school clubs. Loners can be hard to motivate, if they are not in the band or on the football team. Frank discovered that these bikes can be great motivators.
“Everyone should go to the Salvation Army Christmas Center. It’s so much fun to see it happen.”
Bill Giduz was the son who followed his father’s footsteps into journalism. He has been involved his entire life with news and photography in schools he attended and jobs he’s held. He believes now that he’s got a few good years left to devote to The News of Davidson.