By 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, hundreds of boxes full of handlebars, wheels, frames and other bike parts had been opened up in a cavernous building in east Vancouver. Not even two hours later, hundreds of volunteers had nearly finished assembling those parts into more than 600 new, complete bikes destined to become Christmas gifts for less-fortunate kids in Clark County.
This was the 18th annual bike-building event sponsored by Waste Connections of Washington. It drew hundreds of volunteers wanting to give disadvantaged area youth a brighter Christmas. Although this year was different with the absence of Scott Campbell, a Waste Connections employee who died of cancer in September, the well-liked community leader’s memory remained present.
Jason Hudson, Waste Connections division vice president, recalled how Campbell loved kids and loved Christmas, noting that this was one of his favorite charitable events. To honor his memory, the event’s name has been changed from Waste Connections’ Christmas Promise to the Scott Campbell Christmas Promise, Hudson said.
“What would Scott have wanted?” Hudson said. “Scott liked to take things a step further, to make things bigger and better.”
The annual event has gotten bigger over the years, said Peter Van Tilburg, the executive director of advocacy group Bike Clark County, which helped organize the event. Volunteers assembled 515 bikes last year, Hudson said. This year, they put together just more than 600, he said.
After the bikes have been given a final quality control check, Van Tilburg said, they’re passed over to Santa’s Posse, a community program led by the sheriff’s office that distributes toys for less-fortunate families as well as social service agencies, churches, nonprofits and government entities who get them to needy kids.
Hudson and Van Tilburg said the event is intended to make sure kids get to feel the excitement of Christmas and come away with the memory of getting their first bike. Both said Christmas can be a hard time for disadvantaged kids who see other kids at school bragging about all the gifts Santa brought them while they received few. They described receiving letters in past years from families grateful that their children received something good for Christmas.
In the building where the event took place, volunteers picked up boxes or plastic wrap, wheeled bikes through or took a break to snack on pizza. Spread throughout the building were life-size cutouts of Campbell, wearing a suit and a big grin.
“We do it every year,” said Richard Klotzer, a Vancouver resident who drives a truck for Waste Connections. He brought along his wife, Anna Klotzer, and their three kids, Austin, Aliyson and Adam.
Anna said they’ve been helping out ever since their kids were toddlers just old enough to hand them tools to assemble the bikes.
Aaron Reiter, a resident of Camas, said this is the third year he’s volunteered, bringing his kids, Haden and Madeline, to help less-fortunate families.
“It’s a luxury being in this heated building,” he said, recalling the drafty warehouse where the event was previously held.
The event also brought volunteers from Portland. Fifteen members of Swift Racing PDX, an amateur bike racing team based in Portland, turned out to help give the bikes final tune-ups and inspections to ensure the brakes work, the handlebars face the right way and the bikes overall are safe before going out the door.
While member John Ohotto used an Allen wrench to fine-tune the brakes, Matt Smith explained that the team has some members from Vancouver, but most are from Portland. Some of them were eager to cross the river to help out, he said.
Mary McLaren of Battle Ground said she helped recycle plastic and paper and also had a hand in assembling two bikes. A cancer survivor, she said she bonded with Campbell while volunteering at the event over the past three years.
“Scott would have been here, but he can’t,” she said. “So I will.”