A Wheelie Good Cause

The River Hills/Lake Wylie Lions in South Carolina are proof that good deeds don’t require great skill. Just desire.

Two men fix a bike
Moe Bell and Lion Rick Thomas check out bikes for the Toys For Happiness charity in South Carolina.

Lion Rick Thomas, a retired chemical engineer, was an avid cyclist for 20 years and raced with a competitive cycling team. But he never repaired a bike until his wife, Susan, also a Lion, heard the club’s discussion about restarting their old Bicycles for Kids program that had faded from the project list.

“Rick can do that,” she said, volunteering her husband to take charge.

Sure enough, he could, and he has now for five years. The Lions gave away more than 50 bikes for kids this year, thanks to Thomas and his team of six Lions plus  two non-Lions who just like to help.

All retired from various careers, they enthusiastically rehab bikes for children and adults in an October-to-December program that seems to be growing with need.

Initially, the team reconditioned donated kids’ bikes and passed them to other

Kids smile in front of new bikes
Rock Hills/Lake Wylie Lions Sam Swisher and Rick Thomas delivered a trailer load of bikes to a happy grade school.

organizations who distributed them to children at Christmas. But the Lions discovered that kids being kids, can be hard on a bike. Repairs and replacements to get a donated bike like new again may cost as much as a new bike. And kids really like getting a brand new bike for Christmas.

The Lions began taking in donations of adult bikes as well. Adults generally don’t care if their bike looks brand new, just that the brakes work and the tires are good, says Thomas. So the team rehabs these adult bikes and sells them, using the money to buy new bikes for kids. With the pandemic, adult bike sales were brisk last year. More adults were stuck at home and calling to find a bike so they could get out and exercise.

Lion Sam Swisher, a former tax lawyer and financial planner, created the team’s marketing plan, partnering with Walmart for a community grant, and successfully selling these adult bikes online. Retired electrical engineer, Lion Mike Heslop, tunes up the mechanics of the adult bicycles, and Lion John Cathcart, who claims no mechanical knowledge, takes pride in polishing the bicycles “until they shine like new.”

“It’s such a satisfying feeling when I finish cleaning every part of the bike—the rims, the pedals, the chrome, the rubber—knowing that in the end, some child will be happier,” says Cathcart, a retired foreign correspondent for the London Sunday Times and editor of the National Enquirer.

Before Christmas, Thomas was able to use money from adult bike sales to buy 26 new bikes for children who were receiving presents through Toys For Happiness, a 36-year-old nonprofit that focuses on local people helping local people. Moe Bell, chairman of the nonprofit’s warehouse where the gifts are presented, says they helped 1,735 kids this year, and Lions have been one of their steady supporters. He is appreciative of Thomas and his team because every family helped by Toys For Happiness has the opportunity to request a bike.

Bikes go where kids need them, says Thomas. Eleven kids’ bikes, all in excellent condition, were donated to the Lions this fall. Thomas and the team checked them out and polished them up, then delivered them to a grade school where they knew children are in need.

“The principal was all in. He jumped on the truck and started unloading them. They were all so excited. Those kind of events make it so worthwhile,” says Thomas. “We’re a big Lions club. We have a lot of events to raise money, but most of that money we distribute to charities. This is the only event where we give directly to the community. And to me that’s important. Those kids know it’s the Lions club that gave them that bike. It’s heartwarming to see the appreciation and the enthusiasm.”

“You don’t have to know how to fix a bike to join us,” Thomas has been heard to say more than once. “It’s kind of good therapy. You get challenged as a retiree. It gives you something to do, and when you’re done, you can look back say, ‘man, that looks pretty good.’”