One winter day in 2015, local couple Terry and Lynn Weiner were walking their dog Riley in the Commons at Butler’s Barracks in Niagara-on-the-Lake, when they bumped into another couple cross-country skiing through the open field.
It was the first time the pairs crossed paths, and at the time there was no telling just how close they would become.
Fast forward to 2019 — Terry, a retired manufacturing engineer who worked the aerospace industry in California, and Mark, having retired from a career in pulp and paper sales, are now close collaborators on a project called Bikes for Farmworkers, where the two restore bikes for local seasonal workers
After meeting, the couples discovered they had something in common — they had both just moved to town. The Weiners had moved from Los Angeles, California, while skiers Mark and Monica Gaudet had recently relocated from Unionville, Ont.
The series of events blossomed into a friendship, and by that summer, both Terry and Mark got involved doing volunteer work to help local migrant workers, inspired by a notice posted at the local library by the Niagara Migrant Workers Interest Group. The group had been looking for people to help repair bikes.
Mark, himself an avid cyclist, and Terry, who had been volunteering to drive workers from Tregunno farms to Grace United Church every Sunday, both offered to help.
The two repaired 10 or 15 bikes for their first NMWIG event, and so Bikes for Farmworkers began.
By the summer of 2016, Mark and Terry were busy fixing bikes.
“I had 75 bikes at one time in my garage,” says Terry.
Both were working in their personal garages, with “supplies paid for out of our own pockets,” they noted. For the amount of bikes they were working on, they realized they needed both space, and some funding to support tools and supplies. By 2017, they had both.
Mark and Terry got access to space in the old Virgil Public School building on Four Mile Creek Road, and a grant from the Niagara Community Foundation. The grant allowed them to set up four full workstations with the tools needed, and it’s been expanding ever since.
Six volunteers now work with Terry and Mark to fix up the donated bicycles, which are sold for $20. Repairs are typically free.
In 2017, the group sold more than 300 bikes, and repaired another 92.
In 2018, they sold 478 bikes, and repaired 321 more.
As of January 2019, they already have well over a hundred bikes and counting, ready for the arrival of the farmworkers at the end of February.
The space is meticulously organized, and full of bikes — bikes ready for sale, bikes waiting to be repaired, bikes being stored for owners who will collect them in the spring.
Tools line the walls and carefully labelled bins hold various parts at the ready.
The pair is humble about their success.
“We’re just retired guys with wrenches,” says Mark. They work every Tuesday and Thursday, all year. When asked why they devote so much time and effort to this endeavour, they look puzzled at the question.
“Because they’re our neighbours,” says Terry. “We want to make sure the workers have a safe bike,” adds Mark.
Then Terry points to a bulletin board, filled with pictures of farmworkers picking up their bikes, broad smiles on their faces.
“These guys just got a bike, they can ride around, get where they need to be, it’s freedom,” Mark says.
Mark and Terry think this year they could potentially handle as many as 800 bikes. They stressed the importance, and their appreciation of the generosity of the community in donating bicycles for them to fix up.
Bikes for Farmworkers accepts bicycles donations all year. Anyone wishing to donate a bike can call Mark at 289-783-1684 to arrange for a pick-up or drop-off, or Terry at 905-321-8638.