A Letter from the Heartland

by Tim Weitzel
Fall 2010 InGear

Spring 2010 collection in Dubuque

Spring 2010 collection in Dubuque

Hello to everyone from the Heartland of America—Dubuque, Iowa to be exact. Dubuque is an old river town of about 62,000 people situated on the banks of the Mississippi River. I suppose many of you would think of Iowa as flat as a pancake, but Dubuque’s topography is more similar to San Francisco than to the Great Plains.

I first talked to Dave Schweidenback four years ago. In 2006, after roughly five years of “thinking about it,” I decided to try in some small way to “help someone.” My daughter, Erica, had returned from Haiti in 2002 with horrific stories of poverty and the immense transportation problems of that island. Being an avid road bicyclist, I had 3 or 4 “extra” bikes in my garage. My plan was to collect a few more and send them to a Catholic missionary in Port au Paix. I now laugh at how naïve I was. By the time I looked up, I had 30 bikes in my garage with no idea what to do next. Over coffee, a good friend of mine said simply, “Why don’t you check the internet? Somebody is probably already doing that.” And of course they were!

Bikes arrive at the collection site

Bikes arrive at the collection site

I called a phone number at Pedals for Progress and some guy named Dave answered. We talked for a long time, and though I wasn’t sure he liked me, I needed to get rid of “my bikes.” My next problems were determining how I would get them to New Jersey and how much would I have to pay. I kind of remember Dave saying something about $10.00 a bike, which meant something like $300.00, plus shipping to New Jersey. I soon learned the economics of philanthropy! But, like super heroes, Ding Bell, Jack Blosch, John Markham, Paul Schultz, Tim Hodge, the Dubuque Noon Optimists, the Dubuque Bike Club, and Joe Bitter burst onto the scene. Almost overnight, it seems now, I went from a one-man show to a well oiled, yet still somewhat unorganized, group of dedicated bike collectors.

We still scramble for money, but things always seem to work out. We often talk and dream about how to collect more bikes or how to get them to New Jersey and beyond more efficiently. I see no turning back now. Our immediate goal is to continue to organize and plan for future collections.

Processing a child's bike for shipment to P4P

Processing a child’s bike for shipment to P4P

When Dave asked me to write this article about Pedals for Progress presence in Dubuque, I was proud, humbled, and a bit surprised. Proud, because I really believe we have helped lift families out of poverty and made their lives a bit easier. Humbled, because I am just a small part of the Dubuque operation: much, much credit goes to the unsung volunteers, the Dubuque Noon Optimists, Dubuque Bike Club, Jack Blosch, Ding Bell, and my father, George Weitzel. Surprised, because when I started out four years ago I envisioned collecting 50 bikes at the most. We currently have collected 1663 bikes and I am constantly amazed at the community support we receive. Finally, above all, I am thankful to Dave Schweidenback for trusting someone from half a country away whom he has never met, and to all the donors who continue to bring in their bikes.

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