A nonprofit on a mission to give bikes to kids who can’t afford them
By Abigail Thorpe
Serving as an HVAC repairman for 32 years, Tom Morgan would often see old bikes in the bushes of client’s yards or leaned up against the garage. Morgan grew up in a low-income family and had to borrow or ride his friends’ bikes as a child. “It’s something that kind of sticks with you when you’re a kid,” he recalls. “You know that you don’t have stuff that other kids do.”
He would work on a $2 million home for one call, and a single-wide manufactured home the next. “So I was aware of the families that had kids that didn’t have bicycles, so I just started asking people, ‘Hey, what are you gonna do with that old bike in the bushes over there? Because I know a family that could use it,’ and nobody said no,” he recalls.
And so his mission to bring bikes to kids who couldn’t afford them started out of the back of his repair van, one or two bikes at a time. Over the years, customers got to know him as he returned each year to do their HVAC service and started picking up old bikes when they could to pass off to him. “So I would leave with an invoice—and a bicycle,” Morgan smiles.
Around the time it got to the point he had about 30 bikes at his house, Morgan and his wife took a trip to Boise that would prove instrumental in directing his future.
A flat tire on a bike ride led him to the Boise Bicycle Project, a nonprofit that provides bicycles to those in need as well as a space for people to work on their own bikes and receive help from knowledgeable volunteers. “I go walking through the doors and it was nothing like any bike shop I'd ever been in,” recalls Morgan.
He had forgotten his bike repair kit on the trip. “I think the reason I forgot it is because I was meant to stumble into Boise Bicycle Project and see what was going on there … It planted a seed in my head: I thought, ‘Why doesn’t Coeur d’Alene have something like this?’”
He spent hours at the shop, and when he returned to Coeur d’Alene, he gathered with some like-minded individuals to discuss starting something similar in his hometown. “I don’t know why I didn’t think I was the guy to do it,” says Morgan. “Finally one day my wife says to me, ‘Let’s just do it!’” and so Lake City Bicycle Collective was born.
The shop opened in 2014 and in six years’ time has given away more than 1,000 bicycles and over 500 helmets. “The goal of the place is we want to get bicycles to kids who financially would have no opportunity to have a bike,” says Morgan.
It soon outgrew its original space 10 blocks from the current shop in the basement of the First Baptist Church on Wallace Avenue. The shop serves anyone who enters its doors, providing affordable bikes to those who are looking for a bike on a budget or offering space to work and fix your own for a minimal fee—$5 for an hour or $10 for the entire day. The shop is fully equipped with all of the tools, work stations and replacement items a person might need, and includes volunteers with years of experience.
Bikes typically range from $20 to $50, but the shop provides free bikes to those truly in need and works with CASA, the homeless community, veterans and families who are financially struggling to help each individual get a bike at a price they can afford—whatever that may be.
Sometimes it takes two or three bikes from what Morgan calls “the boneyard” to make a good one. He and the volunteers pull pieces from each bike to restore one to good working condition and recycle the parts they can’t use. “Everything either gets upcycled or recycled or reused,” he says.
The shop is entirely volunteer run by Morgan and a team of volunteers, and partners with a diverse mix of nonprofits in Coeur d’Alene including Kootenai Health—which provides its helmets—and community business partners and individuals.
But it’s been a slow go to get here. The shop will get an influx of donations after a news report during Christmas, but then many people will forget about them. “You have to keep on reaching out and keep on going to events,” says Morgan.
At 52, he’s been a bicycle lover for over 40 years now and loves to see the joy in kids’ eyes when they get their first bike. “It’s a lot of fun. You get to see the good that you do, you get to see the face light up on a kid that really thought, ‘I’m not getting a bike, there’s no hope for me,’” he says.
He has kids he starts on a bike at 4 or 5 years old, and if they take good care of it, will trade them for a bigger one when they need it. “The connection that we really want to make is the kid that gets this bike,” says Morgan. “This might be someone's first bicycle, and the hope is that this is a connection that will stay with this young person forever. There’s good people in the world, and maybe one day they become some of them.”
Lake City Bicycle Collective is open noon to 6pm Tuesday through Saturday and always welcomes volunteers, donations or unwanted bikes. Reach out to Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org or 208.740.1502, and stop in to see the exciting work going on. It costs about $25 to refurbish a bike, so each bike you buy for $50 allows one to go out the door for someone in need.