Ken Eden, the new leader of Bikes for Farmworkers, is optimistic about the 2023 season.
However, there’s one thing that would make him feel more prepared.
“Right now we are looking for volunteers,” Eden told The Lake Report.
Bikes for Farmworkers provides repaired bikes to migrant workers across the region for $20 from mid-March to October.
There’s a few changes to the way things will operate this year, “which will be easier to handle with some extra people,” said Eden.
There will be three shifts with four people each so volunteers aren’t working long hours.
The group only has about six volunteers now repairing and fixing bikes in the shop.
The shop, in the basement at the old Virgil public school, has four work stations and multiple storage rooms. Those rooms are used to store bikes that are finished or need to be repaired.
Bikes for Farmworkers was founded by Terry Weiner and Mark Gaudet in 2015 – and Eden joined the organization in 2017.
He met Weiner and Gaudet while they were working in the basement of the old Virgil public school.
“Our church (Gateway Community Church) used to be upstairs and one day, I saw some guys coming in and I kind of heard there was somebody fixing bikes. So I wandered down,” he said.
He’s been volunteering ever since.
Bikes for Farmworkers has been affiliated with Gateway Community Church since 2020.
Since Eden is on the board of the church and has been the longest-serving volunteer at Bikes for Farmworkers, he was the perfect candidate to take over, said Gaudet – who still helps out behind the scenes.
He’s focused on helping Eden with the transition, purchasing bike parts as well as with training new volunteers.
“We had two new recruits call in and they’re starting this Thursday and I’m going to take them on as a project,” said Gaudet.
As of mid-March, Bikes for Farmworkers will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the latter day being the busiest.
On Thursdays, many of the seasonal workers will be out shopping in Virgil and will stop by the shop to buy a new bike or bring their two-wheeler in for repair.
“I probably didn’t realize how important the bicycles were to these guys until I started doing it,” said Eden.
That’s because for the eight months the workers are here, bikes are their primary mode of transportation, he said.
In 2022, the organization rebuilt 420 bikes and fixed 240. To date, the program has sold more than 2,300 bikes and repaired more than 1,600.
Eden said loves meeting new people and connecting with the workers.
“When we take a bike in to refurbish, we put it through a 50-point refurbishing schedule. We fix everything properly so that it’s safe (and) everything works.”
“Then it’s quality-controlled by being test-driven by somebody other than the person that fixed it,” he added.
Bikes that can’t be repaired are used for parts.
When the workers drop off a bike for repair, they get a loaner for the week. They can usually pick up their repaired bike the following week.
Since taking on the lead role, Eden said he’s been working on reorganizing and recruiting more volunteers.
Anyone interested in helping out can go to Gatewaynotl.com/bikes and fill out an application.
Eden expects to open the shop by mid-March on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to about 7 or 7:30 p.m.