More than 180 bikes, adorned with hand-made bright bows on the handlebars, with helmets and locks, arrived this morning on a Kroger truck from Pickaway Correctional Institution, where they were assembled by inmates. HCJFS volunteers unloaded the truck under the watchful eyes of local media.
“Each one of these bikes is going to bring an incredible smile to the face of a child who might be struggling this holiday season,” said Moira Weir, director of Hamilton County Job and Family Services. “We deal with abused and neglected children, and whether they are separated from their family or we are working to protect them within their family unit, the holidays provide an opportunity to bring a little joy into their lives. We really appreciate Kate Koch (the Bike Lady) and Kroger for making this happen.”
The bikes, helmets and locks come via Bike Lady, Inc., a non-profit formed in 2008 by Koch (pronounced Cook). She donates to children’s services agencies for distribution to the children they serve.
The “Bike Lady” started in Franklin County but has expanded to 44 different counties this year. Koch is a former Franklin County Children Services foster parent who adopted both of her children from the agency. She bought 26 bikes in 2008 for the agency’s Holiday Wish toy drive. Three months later, she founded Bike Lady, Inc.
The organization’s mission: “To enrich the daily life experience and expand opportunities of Ohio at-risk youth by providing new bikes, helmets, and locks to children who have a history of abuse, neglect, and abandonment, and are served by county child protective services (foster care placement). And, to provide Ohio inmate offenders a chance to give back through volunteer bike assembly community service.”
Koch, a business development consultant and avid cyclist, takes donations from corporations and private citizens. Some of her largest donations have come from The Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation (in-kind donation of $15,000 in helmets through a grant administered by Nationwide Children’s Hospital); Independent Pilots Association Foundation ($12,000); ABB Westerville employees ($6,000) and the ABB Foundation ($5,000); and Kroger Company ($5,000).
Her efforts are all volunteer driven and 100 percent of donations are used to purchase bikes. Koch buys the bikes from Huffy in bulk at prices below retail. Inmates at seven prisons – Pickaway, Toledo, Grafton, Noble, London Correctional Institution, Corrections Reception Center and the Ohio Reformatory for Women – — voluntarily assemble the bikes.
“Assembly services and space means Bike Lady can purchase bikes direct from Huffy Bicycles through its charitable program, realizing 50 percent or more cost savings over retail,” Koch said. “That means we can serve twice as many children for the dollar! The inmates put a lot of heart and soul into the assembly. They give to kids what they don’t have themselves: Freedom.”