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Church seeks wheels for workers

Day laborers waiting for work play a game

Day laborers waiting for work play a game of soccer outside the Freeport trailer hiring site, from where some will bike to the next job site. (March 2011) Credit: Newsday / Ellen Yan

A Patchogue minister has two words for the economy’s victims: free bikes.

On April 2, anyone who asks might get a new or used bicycle at the Congregational Church of Patchogue, where the Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter will roll out Workers Without Wheels for those who can’t afford the gas, the car payments, the insurance and the repairs.

Like other nonprofits, he’s been seeing more workers start pedaling to work and job hunts.  “We are in the midst of this recession that won’t let go,” the reverend said.

He’s got 40 new bikes so far, a few gently-used ones and a $1,000 donation that will fuel 10 more purchases.

But he's driven to get way more, afraid that in this economy, boatloads of hopeful recipients will outnumber the wheels when he keys up his six-hour event. He also wants to help those who can't get behind the wheel due to medical conditions, suspended licenses and more.

“There’s got to be thousands of bikes sitting in garages,” Wolter said. “Come on, get them out here. One of my concerns is will we run out of bikes, and how soon will we run out of bikes?”

Wolter is the pastor who helped lead the community’s healing after the 2008 fatal stabbing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in a bias crime. He opened up his church to victims of hate crimes and day laborers, and since then, he’s seen the demand for bikes more than double from people who can’t afford cars or buses.

Several nonprofit officials say that bikes and bus tickets vanish in minutes and hours whenever they get them.

Workers Without Wheels goes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Donors may contact the church at 631-475-1235. There will be free food from Long Island Cares’ mobile pantry, state labor officials, nonprofits and the Boy Scouts who ferry the new bikes from the nearby Long Island Bicycles, which also is assembling new bikes, to the church. Bicycle mechanics will also repair bikes for free.

“Let your conscience be your guide,” Wolter said of those who ask for bikes.
No ID, no proof of employment, no lack of income documentation will be asked, he said: “When people are hurting . . . they keep it to themselves.”

There may not be enough bikes for all, but the pastor promises to wheel out the welcome.

Photo:  Workers at a hiring site this week seen through the wheels of a bike.

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