What ends up in a landfill in one country can help to change a life a world away from South Brunswick, as the annual Pedals for Progress drive has begun.
The program sends used bicycles and sewing machines to developing nations to be given to poor people in need of cheap transportation to get to jobs, markets and schools.
"This provides people with a non-polluting means of transportation to carry goods, get to school or work, and gives a big leg up to these people instead of a handout," Constable Elementary School second grade teacher Devon Smith, who coordinates the drive in South Brunswick. "It helps to strengthen business and education in these developing nations and it helps stimulate the economy."
Pedals for Progress also accepts donations of used sewing machines and sporting equipment to be sent to developing nations as well. The program has sent over 125,000 bicycles, 1,000 used sewing machines and $10.8 million in new spare parts to partner charities in 32 developing countries.
Last year in South Brunswick, the group collected 108 bicycles, $1,260 in monetary donations, 20 sewing machines and three bags of soccer equipment. Pedals for Progress has also raised $17,000 locally to help defray the approximately $30 to $40 per bike shipping cost.
The program, which began in 1991, was started locally in 1999 by South Brunswick High School math teacher Larry Witlen, a former Peace Corps volunteer. Witlen, who retired last year, attended a Peace Corps convention with displays on some of the projects volunteers were running and decided to bring Pedals for Progress to South Brunswick.
However, due to the economic woes in this country the program has fallen on hard times, Smith said.
"Pedals for Progress is challenged with financial difficulties due to the economy, because it's so expensive to ship these items overseas," she said. "We're trying to get enough funding to send items to Fiji for the first time, which would be exciting."
To help with the financial difficulties, the South Brunswick Education Association's Pride Committee was able to secure a $2,000 grant from the NJEA to help pay for the shipping cost.
"It's exciting for us to able to get this grant because it's such a big community project," Smith said. "We're working together to try and accomplish some big things."
Earlier this year, the SBEA Pride committee ran a cleat exchange, where families could donate used soccer, baseball, and football cleats, while also taking cleats home for free.
Smith said the exchange was a huge success, and there are still several large tubs of cleats left. On June 2, the official date for the Pedals for Progress collection, there will also be an area for the cleat exchange where families can again come and take free cleats. The cleats have been cleaned and sprayed, and are sorted by size and sport.
The SBEA has also enlisted the help of student volunteers to help spread the word. Over 30 members of the South Brunswick High School girls track team volunteered to hand out flyers, and the National Honors Society has gotten involved.
The drive also accepts donated spare parts for bikes like tires, chains, handle bars and seats. The donated sewing machines allow women in other countries to attend seminars to learn the trade. At the conclusion of the seminar, they’re given the sewing machine they worked on all week as a surprise gift.
Any country with an organization who will sponsor the collection, storage and assembly of the bikes can participate in Pedals for Progress. The donated bikes are auctioned off for a small amount, which is then used to operate a bike shop to handle repairs and maintenance. Those who can’t afford to pay for a bike can work off the fee in the bike store. This also helps teach those who buy the bikes to fix it themselves.
The collection drive will be held this year on June 2, at the South Brunswick High School gym parking lot, from noon to 3 p.m.
Early donations may be delivered to South Brunswick High School, care of Devon Smith. Items for collection should be accompanied by a check to Pedals for Progress to help cover shipping costs.
Receipts for tax purposes are available. For additional information, contact Smith at Devon.Smith@sbschools.org.