3500 bikes donated: Scituate man fixed it up and gave it to a neighbor’s kid.
Richard Bonanno was driving on the west side of Scituate four years ago when he saw an expensive mountain bike at the end of a driveway – thrown out with the trash. He stuck it in the back of his truck, took it home, fixed it up and gave it to a neighbor’s kid.
“The next day there were three more. So I picked them all up,” he said. “I gave all three to a friend in Hull, who said four kids came by wanting the bikes. He gave away three then called me and said ‘do you have any more?’ and I said ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ I started looking for them after that. That’s how it all started.”
Today, Bonanno has given away 3,500 bikes to those in need and ships them all over the country – mainly to McFarland, Calif., Sioux, S.D., Henderson, Tenn. and Macon, Ga. He has sheds in his Hollett Street backyard full of half-finished bikes, a garage full of tools and a workstation dedicated to refurbishing them before they get sent out.
“I’ll get bikes that are in brand-new condition, and all I have to do is put air in the tires, but I also get bikes that need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, they’re basket cases,” Bonanno, a contractor, said.
Bonanno has always been a bike lover. He said he remembers growing up in Hull in the 1960 when everybody had a bike, and he is a 26-time rider in the Pan-Mass Challenge.
“It’s a different time and every, back then you would just hop on your bike and go anywhere you wanted with your friends,” he said. “To me, every kid should have a bike. It gives you freedom.”
He said that is especially true for the less fortunate people who end up with his bikes – specifically the homeless men and women in Georgia who are given bikes when they get new jobs, or the needy children on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota.
″(The reservation) has a very large diabetes population, and now the kids are actually getting exercise,” Bonanno said. “So we’re helping them out health-wise, and now they can get on their bikes and escape a bad home life.”
The bike project has become a community-wide effort — almost all the bikes are found or donated by Scituate residents, and Bonanno makes sure to keep everyone who helps updated via Facebook. People bring Bonanno, 61, old bikes, gift cards for parts and even clothes and toys they want to donate, knowing he will get them to the right place.
With the help of Hingham resident Brian McGeoghegan, who provides shipping at no cost, bikes have ended up in the hands of migrant farm workers in California, earthquake victims in Haiti and family-crisis centers in Boston. All he asks for in return is a photo.
“I want to show the people of Scituate where their bikes are going,” he said. “So then I post them on my Facebook page and every time I do, the bikes just pour in. It’s a vicious circle.”
Two years ago, Bonanno got to see the photos come to life on a trip to California. The McFarland Police Department handles the donations in the farm-rich San Joaquin Valley, and hosted a community-wide bike give away and raffle in 2016, something Bonanno says he’ll never forget.
“Over 1,000 bikes have gone to McFarland. I sat in the corner of the playground the whole time and watched this,” Bonanno said. “What was really cool about it is that they had no idea who I was. I truly believe the best deeds are done when nobody is looking.”