Volunteers repair bikes for homeless, carless people
“What we’re down to now is we need bodies to work on these bicycles.” Trippe Hawthorne, explaining the workings of the parking lot bicycle shop
The part of the Baton Rouge cycling community that doesn’t ride with the mayor once a year or visit bicycle shops on Saturday mornings relies on bicycles like few other riders in town.
“They’re lifesavers,” said Mark Dorsey, 45, homeless in Baton Rouge following Hurricane Katrina. “Rubber wheels beat rubber heels.”
Baton Rouge’s homeless and carless gather at a parking lot near Florida Boulevard and 17th Street once a month to get their bicycles repaired, flats fixed and sometimes pick up a used bicycle that’s been put into rideable shape.
Now in its fifth year, the parking lot bicycle shop is run by such men as Trippe Hawthorne, a 41-year-old lawyer; Tommy Groves, a 43-year-old Blue Cross/Blue Shield employee; Ian Guedry, a 24-year-old personal trainer; and Al Smith, maintenance director at the A.C. Lewis YMCA.
Until a few years ago, Smith’s maintenance expertise did not include bicycle repair.
“I learned watching Trippe,” Smith said. “Five or six years ago, my youngest daughter needed her bike fixed. I took it to a bike shop.”
The open-air bicycle shop’s clientele can’t afford $50 repairs on bicycles that wouldn’t fetch $10 at a yard sale. The repairmen routinely break tools on the junkers’ rust-frozen chains.
There is a religious aspect to the work at Florida and 17th, but Hawthorne and the other repairmen, some churched, some not, leave the preaching to the Rev. Joseph Moore, a YMCA volunteer, retired Baton Rouge Fire Department captain and a man once close to homelessness himself.
Moore likes to say that being homeless is a full-time job. In the winter, there could be 800 to 1,000 men and women sleeping outside or in unheated buildings in Baton Rouge, he said. No one knows.
In the summer, shelter’s just as critical as refuge from the heat, rain, insects and human predators.
“These guys ride their bicycles to the doctor, to shelters that are real scattered and to soup kitchens,” said Dorsey, who lived under the North Boulevard Overpass when it was under construction.
Before Hurricane Katrina, Dorsey had left Baton Rouge to care for his father in New Orleans. “I wasn’t in the water or anything after Katrina,” he said, “but when I came back to Baton Rouge there wasn’t room to stay with family. Nights, I slept wherever it wasn’t wet.”
Dorsey has the tools to do appliance repair. If he can get ahead on his bills, he wants to buy a truck. “I need a truck to work,” he said.
Dorsey spends his days volunteering with Moore, helping the minister with a relatively new lawn business that employs the homeless.
“We Don’t Just Cut Grass. We TRANSFORM lawns,” says Moore’s card.
“We’re insured,” Moore said. “We buy the equipment and the gasoline. The money goes to the guys who do the work.”
For more information on the lawn service, call (225) 284-5746 or (225) 923-3354.
To donate bicycles or help repair them, call Hawthorne at (225) 389-3741 or (225) 229-2555.
The repairmen are about to get 150 bicycles from the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and another contributor.
Hawthorne says Friends of Open Air Ministries of Baton Rouge is getting warehouse space at little cost from Absolute Construction of Louisiana and Tint Labs but for only a few months.
“What we’re down to now,” Hawthorne said, “is we need bodies to work on these bicycles.”
The help of experienced bicycle repairmen is needed to get the bicycles on the street before the ministry loses the warehouse space, Hawthorne said, but there’s time to train inexperienced people in basic bicycle repair and flat fixing.
University Baptist and First Presbyterian churches have donated thousands of dollars to buy bicycle parts, Hawthorne said. The bicycle ministry also gets support from St. Andrew’s United Methodist, Broadmoor United Methodist and Christ Covenant churches.
The Bicycle Shop, on Highland Road just north of the LSU gate, “has donated more (used) bicycles than anyone else over the years,” Hawthorne said.
For Hawthorne, the open-air bicycle shop is “a great check” on a person’s spiritual barometer “if you’ve got something eating at you or you’re grouchy because it’s hot or somebody smells or this guy’s standing too close to you while you’re trying to work.
“Once you know someone’s name, though, sweated with him, it’s hard to judge him.”