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We Need Bikes

A local nonprofit puts out the call for donated bikes

Rochester is a city where personal transportation is more than a luxury—it’s a necessity. And yet, so many people take it for granted. Imagine living in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, with no easy access to a bus line or taxi service to get to the supermarket or a job. That’s where R Community Bikes rides in.

Established as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 2008, R Community Bikes seeks to provide safe, usable bicycles free of charge to children, teens and adults in need throughout Rochester and the surrounding suburbs. To date, the organization has distributed more than 10,000 bicycles, which are solicited from and collected through individual donations and community organizations. A warehouse on Hudson Avenue serves as the primary hub for R Community Bikes, where a volunteer corps works year-round to repair and refurbish the donated bicycles for safe use.

“Every time we see a need in the community, we try to meet it as best we can,” says Dan Lill, director at R Community Bikes. “We don’t have a master vision for what this will become; we just respond to needs.”

Bike Wheels

In 2001, R Community Bikes founder Bill D’Anza was volunteering at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality when he discovered a need for personal transportation support. D’Anza was asked to fix a flat tire on a bike that belonged to a homeless man stranded in the parking lot outside of St. Joe’s. What started as a simple repair in a parking lot transformed into something greater when other guests at St. Joe’s admitted that they were struggling to get around on broken or damaged bikes. D’Anza enlisted the help of his friend Dan Lill, a recent retiree, to start repairing bikes for those in need.

Bike Gears

In 2001, R Community Bikes founder Bill D’Anza was volunteering at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality when he discovered a need for personal transportation support. D’Anza was asked to fix a flat tire on a bike that belonged to a homeless man stranded in the parking lot outside of St. Joe’s. What started as a simple repair in a parking lot transformed into something greater when other guests at St. Joe’s admitted that they were struggling to get around on broken or damaged bikes. D’Anza enlisted the help of his friend Dan Lill, a recent retiree, to start repairing bikes for those in need.

As the years passed, the two men recruited other volunteers to join their forces, and the group moved into their current location in 2005, where they started collecting and repairing bikes for donation. To help cover their expenses, R Community Bikes will sell high-end bikes at a reduced rate. Today, the organization distributes more than 2,000 bikes and provides more than 3,000 bike repairs annually through their warehouse and four summer offsite locations.

Mechanic's Apprentice

“Neither of us was particularly adept with tools, but we could do basic repairs,” says Lill, who adds that the organization will also repair bikes that did not come from their warehouse. “Over the years, we have learned so much along the way from our volunteers.”

Though the bulk of regular volunteers are retired members of the community, R Community Bikes recently revved up their efforts to diversify their volunteer base, including a unique partnership with social services agencies such as CP Rochester, Lifetime Assistance and the Rochester Psychiatric Center to provide an opportunity for teens and adults with special needs to get involved.

“They clean bikes, sort parts, open locks and do other work that needs to be done,” Lill says. “It gets them out of their normal surroundings and fills their desire to be contributing members in the community.”

Tilly Gannt, 51, of Rochester, is a community volunteer and apprentice mechanic who joined R Community Bikes in 2013. “Working in the shop has taught me patience,” she says. “As long as I keep trying, I will succeed at what I am doing. Everyone should want to volunteer here because the atmosphere is so positive.”

Though basic knowledge of tools or bike mechanics is always a plus, R Community Bikes holds four training sessions each year so that anyone interested in joining their volunteer base, can. For those interested in donating, R Community Bikes will inspect and repair your broken or used bikes before distributing them to the community.

The organization also will accept bike parts, accessories, and monetary donations. In addition to dropping off at the warehouse and pickup options, several suburban Rotary organizations will host bike drives for donations this spring.

R Community Bikes Team

“We don’t always hear the success stories, but we know these bikes are making a difference,” Lill says. “On distribution days, we will have 50-75 people lined up for bikes, and we will continue to respond to those needs.”

R Community Bikes, 226 Hudson Ave., is open Monday-Saturday. Bikes are distributed on Wednesdays and Saturdays.