In 2011, Oxford Circle resident Chris Guinan fixed up five bicycles to donate to neighborhood kids who weren’t fortunate enough to have bikes. It was a simple act of kindness with no intentions of becoming a regularity, but when his coworkers at SEPTA noticed what he was doing, they passed along more bikes for Guinan to fix up and donate to kids.
Nine years later, Guinan and his family have proudly fixed up and donated their 1,000th bike to youth in need throughout the Greater Philadelphia region. At a conference held at Congreso de Latinos Unidos in North Philadelphia, Guinan reflected on the operation’s humble beginnings to becoming what it is now.
“It really wasn’t the byproduct of any preconceived notions or anything like that. It really took on a life of its own,” the recently retired SEPTA employee said.
About 10 bikes, including the lucky 1,000th, were donated to families involved with Congreso, a nonprofit dedicated to helping families in predominantly Latino neighborhoods become economically self-sufficient.
Several of the bikes, including the 1,000th, went to the Chapelle family, who shared that the timing was perfect with their kids asking for bikes as the holiday season approached.
“Who doesn’t remember riding a bike for the first time?” said Julia Riviera, director of External Affairs at Congreso.
The Guinans have been able to distribute about 125 bikes per year, though thanks to a recent partnership with Burns Recycling they’ve been pedaling out closer to 200 a year.
Leslie S. Richards, general manager at SEPTA, connected with Guinan when she assumed her position earlier this year. She had five unused bicycles sitting in her garage that she donated to the cause. Bikes may be hard to give away for some, she said, because of memories of biking with families or friends as kids.
“These days just being a kid is also a challenge, so this is a wonderful opportunity,” she said.
Even though he started the project, it has long ago grown into a family effort. Though Chris is retired after 30 years at SEPTA, his daughter and son Lauren and Christian are still SEPTA employees after following in his footsteps. They also help with fundraising and fixing up the bikes, along with Chris’s wife Cindy.
Last but certainly not least is Chris’s granddaughter Sophia, who has helped paint, clean and deliver the bikes with little coercion from her family. Sophia has developed somewhat of a following herself, with her classmates from St. Jerome School and teammates from the Philadelphia Soccer Club coming by the family’s residence to help out as well.
“Nine years later, maybe we should start to look at the younger generation and see how they too can contribute,” Guinan said.
Guinan believes a selfless act of kindness like Sophia and the rest of his family’s is something the world could use more of.
“There’s still a small piece of the world that understands that purpose, and perhaps we have to look no further than a smile on a child’s face,” he said.
The bikes are distributed among Intercultural Family Services Inc., Shriners Hospital and various smaller outlets. A GoFundMe to raise funds for bikes for children at Shriners Hospital can be found at bit.ly/3qA5rY3. ••