Lewis Griswold:Volunteers fix bicycles for Visalia homeless for free

FresnoDecember 7, 2013 

Jim Barnes of Visalia lubricates the gears of a bicycle at the Visalia Rescue Mission.


Each Wednesday at the Visalia Rescue Mission, retired teacher Jim Barnes and fellow volunteers fix bicycles for free.

"You've heard of the thankless job? This is just the opposite," Barnes said. "After retirement, this has really filled the gap. It gives purpose and meaning to my retired life."

The volunteers help Rescue Mission overnighters and residents, and the homeless, but will assist anyone in need, Barnes said. Last week, for instance, an older man from the neighborhood brought in his nephew's scooter, which had a flat, and Barnes gladly repaired it.

"He doesn't ask for thanks or anything back in return," said Fabian Regalado, 49, a Rescue Mission resident whose bike got a new brake cable, reflector and crankshaft repair.

About five years ago, Barnes volunteered at the Rescue Mission on Thanksgiving Day and noticed dozens of bicycles, only to be told that most of them didn't work.

He contacted Dave Freitas, retired owner of Wilson's Cyclery bike store, and the two men started showing up once a month with tools and parts to fix bikes for free.

This summer, the program went weekly — for a time, they worked out of the nearby Lincoln Oval park where many homeless congregate — and they're repairing about 25 bikes a week. They work from 8:45 to 11:45 a.m.

Volunteers include retired businessman Mike Robertson, retired teacher Rick McFarlane, bike shop owner Carlos Flores of Cyclery Xpress and retired contractor Andre Cloutier.

The No. 1 hurdle is covering the cost of bicycle parts, both new and used, such as tubes, tires and brakes, Barnes said. The repair crew will scrounge parts from broken-down bikes, but all have dug into their own pockets to keep the program alive.

Barnes is reaching out to the community for support; the Visalia Breakfast Rotary Club recently pledged $1,000, which covered tools and six months of parts, he said.

Getting around town on a bike beats walking and saves money on bus fare, said those getting their bicycles repaired.

"I wouldn't be on the move if not for them," said Shawn Whipple, 47, a Rescue Mission resident and volunteer who uses his bicycle to get to drug court.

Dave Moore, 61, formerly homeless but now staying with friends, stopped in to borrow an Allen wrench to adjust a shifter lever.

"These guys are great," he said spontaneously.

The appreciation works both ways, said McFarlane, a volunteer for several months. "You'd be shocked how much they thank you," McFarlane said. "I've had so many people be grateful."


Lewis Griswold covers the news of Tulare and Kings counties for The Bee. His column runs Sunday. He can be reached at (559) 441-6104, lgriswold@fresnobee.com or @fb_LewGriswold on Twitter.

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