Bike Lady Expands Program For 6th Year In A Row

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One local woman is thankful for friends behind bars this season, because they're helping her to make wishes come true.

The Bike Lady hopes to spread her holiday cheer even farther this year to kids in Franklin County, the surrounding counties, as well as Fayette and Lucas counties.

At the Pickaway Correctional Institution in Orient, prisoners in blue shirt sleeves don't seem to mind the cold as they unload boxes from the back of the truck.  The large cartons contain helmets, huge bows, and mechanical parts.  Once assembled, these parts will become Christmas joy for a foster child...a new bike.

"Foster kids live under tremendous rules and regulations of what they can and cannot do.  And many of those regulations rob them of normal childhood activities," said Kate Koch Gatch.

This former foster mother, now an adoptive mother of two, is known as The Bike Lady. For the past five years, she has made sure that some foster kids get a bicycle for Christmas.  The first year she raised money and donated 125 bikes.

Last year, she gave away 1,200. She says bikes mean freedom, and for older kids...a way to get home from after-school activities, or to a job.

"It's very difficult for a foster child to get a driver's license, so this is a way they have transportation," Gatch said.

She found that she could buy twice as many bikes if she ordered them in pieces, so these inmates volunteered to assemble them.  In addition, the prison chapter of the Jaycees raised a thousand dollars for her.

"We do fund raisers and we find good causes out there," said Jaycees board member, Fernando Cabrales, who is putting the bikes together for his second year.

Bruce Suggs, who helped assemble bikes for the first time this year, said, "It was a way for me to give back during the holidays, just something I felt good about."

Fifty assembled bikes of various sizes, decked with large colorful bows, filled the back of the room where the men worked.  Fifteen volunteers put together 100 bikes a day.  So far, they've assembled 997, and Gatch is hoping they'll be busy with more.  Every few days someone from a county Children's Services department drives over to load up the bicycles.

"This facility here has become my labor force, my distribution center, my factory," Gatch said.  "It's a strange thing to say that I like going to prison a few times a year throughout the year,  but I thoroughly enjoy my time here, and  I'm amazingly proud of these men, and what they're doing to give back to the community."

On Christmas morning, the lucky young recipients will receive a new bike, a helmet, and a bike lock.

Gatch is still accepting donations to buy more bikes.