Pedals For Progress Puts New Use To Old Bikes

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Go ahead, take a look through your basement or attic.

“I know that there are a lot of bicycles sitting in people’s garages and sewing machines that aren’t used anymore,” says Anne Fitzgerald of Avon, a volunteer for Pedals for Progress, a non-profit organization in New Jersey that ships bikes and sewing machines to developing countries such as Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Uganda. Fitzgerald is preparing for her fourth donation event after being motivated to join this “feel-good” mission by her friend, Jackie Johnson of Granby, who had sought action after being profoundly distressed by the events of 9/11 and the subsequent war overseas.

“I read this little blurb about Pedals for Progress,” explains Johnson. “At the time, my kids were still small, and we were really looking for a way to make some kind of contribution, to do something good.”

After holding her first collection in 2002, Johnson knew she had found the right cause: “It’s a win-win because it keeps bikes and sewing machines out of our landfills … and sends them to countries where they really change people’s lives,” she says.

Since 1991, Pedals for Progress ( has provided more than 138,000 bicycles and 2,600 used sewing machines to 38 developing countries. The organization accepts bikes of any size with little rust.

“Oftentimes, in Third World countries, schools are very far away and they cannot walk. But with a bicycle, they can go to school,” says Fitzgerald, adding that bikes can help people travel to good jobs or create their own employment, such as a delivery man.

“Here, it looks like a bishop is able to visit his congregation,” she says, pointing to photos. “This fellow is transporting his child.” Many women gain income with work on the sewing machines.

“I’m amazed at how old some of them are,” says Fitzgerald. “I got two treadle sewing machines from the 1890’s! The dates were even on them! We’ll take anything because some countries have no electricity.”

Folks can bring bikes and sewing machines to the Memorial United Methodist Church in Avon Saturday, Oct. 19, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Volunteers ask for an additional $10 donation to off-set the cost of shipping. The bikes are “flattened” into containers and sent across the world where workers will also earn pay by re-assembling and repairing them. Another event will be held at Holcomb Farm in West Granby in the spring.

“We waste so much in America,” says Fitzgerald. “There’s so much we can do with so little effort.” Johnson is always touched by the volunteers — from children to senior citizens — who come out to contribute. She believes becoming involved with Pedals for Progress helped her kids realize the value of giving back: “It really is very inspiring and feels to me like a way, from my little spot in Granby, Connecticut, to help make the world smaller.”

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