What began as one couple’s attempt to teach their daughter about the struggles that many families are faced with has broadened into an effort to bring new bicycles to children who have little prospect of ever owning a new set of wheels.
Todd and Cindy Caroline of Lutz began providing new bicycles to children from less fortunate families about six years ago. They wanted their daughter Zoye, now 9, to understand that not all families are as blessed as theirs has been, Cindy Caroline said.
Over time, the effort branched out.
At first, the Carolines simply asked people attending their annual Christmas party to bring a new bike to help brighten a child’s holiday, Caroline said. Then, they decided to shift the effort over to their company — Caroline Contractors LLC — so they could reach out to their suppliers, business associates and other members of the community to help.
This is the fourth year that the company has had its Christmas bicycle drive. Each year, it collects at least 100 new bicycles, or the family makes up the difference.
But this year, it has a substantially more ambitious goal. It wants to collect 1,000 new bikes.
Caroline knows that that’s more of a dream than a goal, but she’s open to miracles.
In the past, the couple has given the bicycles to other charitable groups, Caroline said, and those groups have distributed the bicycles primarily to children living in East Tampa communities.
This year, the focus has shifted to helping local children, Caroline said. She attributes the switch to a conversation she had with Suzanne Beauchaine, an account manager for The Laker/Lutz News.
Beauchaine had asked her why the new bikes didn’t go to local children, and Caroline responded it was because she didn’t have a local event. That prompted the Lutz woman to consider staging a local event to give away the bikes.
Buoyed by Beauchaine’s encouragement, Caroline began making telephone calls. First she contacted local schools — Schwarzkopf Elementary in Lutz and Myrtle Lake, Pine View, Connerton, Oakstead and Odessa in central Pasco — to see if they could help identify children from families in need.
Then, she began calling around to local organizations and businesses to see if they could help.
Caroline called Chad Hudson at Hungry Harry’s Family Bar-B-Que, who stepped up in a big way. The popular Land O’ Lakes restaurant is providing food and the use of its Lake House for a party on Dec. 21 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Charlene Ierna of the Lutz-based Ierna’s Heating & Cooling is providing a bounce house for the party. The kids will get free haircuts, too, courtesy of Star’s Organic Spa as well as Cameo Salon & Spa.
Caroline still is trying to line up live entertainment, but at the very least, she said she will have holiday music over a loudspeaker system.
She’s also trying to collect turkeys and other holiday foods to give to each family.
“We just want to be able to bless these families because life is very hard every day for them,” Caroline said. “They struggle. I’d really like to be able to give the families a Christmas dinner.”
Besides the local groups that already have stepped up, Caroline said she’s reached out to members of the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce and is hoping they come through to help ensure there are enough bikes for each child to take one home.
“Our office used to be right next to the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce, so our heart is Land O’ Lakes,” Caroline said. “My husband grew up here. He went to Land O’ Lakes High, so he’s homegrown here.”
She’s also looking for a source that can provide free or discounted helmets, worrying about the children being safe as they ride their bicycles.
Donations from the general public also are gratefully accepted, Caroline said. It typically costs $50 to $80 for a new bike, depending on the size.
“If I can get a bike for every child that comes, I’ll do it,” she said. “If I can’t, I’ll do a lottery-type system.”
Some people may wonder why the focus is on providing new bikes, instead of food or other items.
“You go out on a bike and you forget all about whatever the troubles at home,” she said. “I want them to have fun.”
Ways to help
Here are four ways you can help to make a child’s Christmas special:
- Drop off a new bicycle at Caroline Contractors, 19003 Apian Way, Lutz; or Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce, 2810 Land O’ Lakes Blvd., Land O’ Lakes.
- Purchase a bicycle and have it picked up.
- Order a bicycle online from Walmart or Target and have it shipped to Lutz, where it will be picked up.
- Contribute money to purchase a bicycle, which range in cost from $50 to $80, depending on size.
Published December 10, 2014
See this story in print: Click Here