Hundreds of area children had new bicycles under the tree on Christmas morning thanks to the work of Common Ground Network and donations from the community.
Common Ground, a network of Mansfield area churches, distributed 446 bicycles to needy children in the area this month. That’s almost twice the number of bikes they’ve given away in past years.
It’s an annual tradition for the volunteers of Common Ground, so much so that the smell of bicycle tires has become as synonymous with Christmas as freshly cut fir trees.
"Whether they are riding around the neighborhood or going to the park with their family, the main thing is they are getting outside and they’re getting good exercise," said Susan Luttrell, Common Ground board member and past president. "In a world where there’s so much encouraging them to stay inside and sitting, I think it’s a great thing to give a kid and let them explore the outdoors."
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Common Ground collected cash donations over several weeks to be able to purchase the bicycles and helmets, said Phil Stover, who oversaw the bicycle donation program at Common Ground.
All the bicycles are the right size for children in elementary school and intermediate school.
"It feels wonderful," Stover said. "There have been some really, really wonderful messages that we receive from families about that and it’s great to hear. It’s why we do it, of course."
The bicycles and helmets were purchased from the Academy Sports + Outdoors in Arlington. Employees at the sporting goods store assembled all 446 bicycles, which took a lot of planning and coordination.
"Helping build this large number of bikes fits with Academy’s active-minded philosophy by getting people outside and being active," said Brad Poston, store manager for Academy in Arlington. "It’s important for our company to give back to the communities in which it serves."
Common Ground has about 30 churches working together to provide bicycles to children throughout the Mansfield school district, said Jerry Ritchey, president of Common Ground.
"We’re thrilled to be able to just work with our school district and our area churches to identify kids that have a need and to be able to meet those needs," Ritchey said.
The children are typically identified through their school district nurse or counselor.
Robert Luttrell, Susan’s husband and a Common Ground volunteer, used his flatbed trailer to haul the donated bikes around town.
"I like being able to help children," Luttrell said. "What is there not to like about that?"
Common Ground also allows churches and civic groups to adopt families for the holidays, providing gifts and clothing for the children.
Common Ground stays busy throughout the year making sure needy children don’t go hungry when they aren’t in school. The Feed the Kids For Summer program provides meals to children who rely on free or reduced lunches during the school year. The Feed the Kids Backpack Program makes sure children don’t go hungry over the weekend during the school year.
The group also does a community prayer breakfast before the start of school every year.