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Monday, December 5, 2022
Bikes for Farmworkers founders riding off into retirement. Again
Mark Gaudet and Terry Weiner are looking to pass the handlebars of their bike repair business to someone who can fill their shoes — or at least a bike tire. They founded the charitable group in 2016 and have been operating it up to now. Somer Slobodian

They’ll still help out or advise, but it’s time for Terry Weiner and Mark Gaudet to pass the torch

 

What started out as a fluke encounter for Terry Weiner and Mark Gaudet turned into several years of friendship, partnership and giving back to the community through the Bikes for Farmworkers program.

But now, Gaudet and Weiner have decided to take a step back and pass the handles over to someone else. 

Bikes for Farmworkers started seven years ago and provides repaired bikes to migrant workers across Niagara for the low cost of $20. 

Throughout those seven years, the program has sold more than 2,300 bikes and repaired more than 1,600. 

The duo met in February 2015.

Weiner was walking with his wife Lynn on the Commons near Butler’s Barracks. Gaudet and his wife Monica happened to be cross-country skiing across the Commons at the same time. 

Gaudet, who grew up in Montreal, stopped to talk to Weiner and his wife when he noticed her French-Canadian accent. 

“We just had a random conversation and I picked up her accent and then that was it. We just kind of gelled from there,” Gaudet said with a laugh. 

The guys have dealt with many challenges throughout their partnership, one of the hardest being the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Each year they receive an average of about 500 donated bikes. During COVID, that dropped down to about 250.

And, “the two years of COVID were tough because the workers couldn’t get out,” said Weiner. 

This year, they’re back up to more than 400 donated bikes. 

Both Gaudet and Weiner moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake to retire. Gaudet came to NOTL from the Toronto area, where he worked in the fine paper business. 

Weiner, on the other hand, moved from Los Angeles where he was a consultant in aerospace and defence. NOTL was a place he often visited with his wife, since he had family here and loved the town. 

When he moved to NOTL, he wanted to volunteer his time and do some good for the community.

“I initially got in contact with Jane Andres, and she kind of stirred me towards the migrant community. That’s where I got involved with that for the first time,” said Weiner.

Gaudet has always been a cyclist and when he moved here he did a lot of cycle tourism.

When he saw an advertisement posted by the Niagara Migrant Workers Interest Group looking for someone to help repair bikes for farmworkers, he jumped at the opportunity. 

“They were looking for someone to repair bikes that were donated to that group, but that were going to be given away to the farmworkers at the town’s safety fair,” said Gaudet. 

Forty bikes were dropped off at his house to be fixed up. He told Weiner about the bikes and got him interested in helping. 

At the fair, they noticed how many workers showed up riding unsafe bikes.

 “And that’s how we kind of said, ‘You know what, there’s something that can be done here,’ ” said Gaudet. 

They also learned of a similar operation run by Mike Hahn in Beamsville. After reaching out to him, he showed them some of the ropes. 

For a few years, all operations happened out of their garages. 

“I think at one point in time Terry had parked his two cars outside because he had 70 bikes in the garage and no room to move around,” said Gaudet. 

With help from Positive Living Niagara, they received a start-up grant from the Niagara Community Foundation to help them continue their work. 

Eventually, they met Lloyd Redekopp, who owns the old Virgil public school site.

He let them use an area in the basement as their workshop. That allows them to have four work stations and plenty of space to store and repair bikes. 

They now have eight volunteers who help out weekly.

Now that it’s been seven years, the guys are ready to take a step back from the forefront of the organization. However, they don’t want to leave it completely. 

“I don’t intend to be totally divorced from Bikes for Farmworkers,” said Weiner.

“I may not be picking up a wrench and fixing bikes, but you know, I’ll be around just to help out, to help them administratively if they need it,” he added. 

Gaudet, the head mechanic who has relationships with suppliers and knows the prices of parts and where to get them, will be staying a little longer. However, he wants to take a more behind-the-scenes role. 

He wants to be able to help out the guys in the shop and pass on his knowledge of bike repair. 

He has a few projects in mind that he wants to work on, like getting back into cycle tourism, but he still wants to keep one foot in the door at Bikes for Farmworkers.

Weiner has gotten into genealogy and wants to spend more time exploring that hobby. 

“I think what sticks out with me was how it absolutely just took off. You know, we never anticipated that it would become what it has become,” said Weiner. 

“To really understand the phenomenon. You have to come into the shop on a Thursday night during the early summer … it’s almost like a carnival, it’s wonderful,” he added. 

Most of the bikes purchased by workers go back to their home countries with them at the end of the season. 

There, they become transportation for their families, he said. 

Going forward the pair will be working with Gateway Community Church to find a new leadership team. Bikes for Farmworkers has worked in partnership with Gateway since 2019.

“Anybody that does have the impetus to become involved in volunteer work and would like to take over a leadership position, we can teach them what they need to know about bicycles,” said Weiner.