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Long Island groups collect bikes, sewing machines in charity drive

Christina Gasiewski with her son, Mason, 3, prepare

Christina Gasiewski with her son, Mason, 3, prepare a donated bike for transport as part of a program that will refurbish and ship the bikes to communities in developing countries. The donation event on Saturday, April 1, 2017, was at the Ethical Humanist Society in Garden City. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Saturday may not have been a good day to ride a bike, but for dozens of Long Islanders, it was a good day to donate one.

Despite chilly temperatures and gray skies, a group of more than a dozen volunteers outside the Ethical Humanist Society in Garden City was busy collecting old bikes and sewing machines to be sent to poor communities in developing countries in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa.

“Turnout today has been excellent, better than I thought given the weather,” said Kathleen Williams-Ging, who helped coordinate the event as part of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Long Island, around 11 a.m. “We already have at least 25 bikes, and we’re not even here a half-hour — that’s fabulous.”

The collected items will help others in developing countries jump-start their local economies by providing transportation, supporting education and helping start businesses, organizers said.

The bikes collected Saturday will be sent in shipping containers to Guatemala, while the sewing machines will be sent to several possible recipient countries.

By the drive’s end at 2 p.m., Lyn Dobrin, spokeswoman for both the society and the RPCV, said donors had contributed 138 bikes, 52 sewing machines and $2,434 toward shipping costs.

A bike can mean the difference between finding a job or being able to start a bike repair and sales business, said Gary Michael, collection coordinator for Pedals for Progress, a New Jersey group accepting the bikes collected Saturday. It can also mean children have a quick, safe way home from school.

“When you foster that in them at a young age, they’re going to be a lifelong bike rider,” Michael said. “If you teach them at 4, they will still be doing it at 40.”

Pedals for Progress also collects used sewing machines through their spinoff program, Sewing Peace, which is intended to teach women to sew and use those skills to start their own businesses.

Michele Streeter of Port Washington saw an advertisement for the collection and decided to contribute her sewing machine instead of letting it gather dust.

“I didn’t use my machine anymore, and I felt a lot better giving it to a cause,” she said.

Michael said Saturday was also a big milestone for his group, which picked up their 150,000th bike since 1991 — a red and white Schwinn bicycle with a floral printed seat.

The RPCV, meanwhile, marked its 15th year hosting the collection event at various locations on the Island.

Not everyone had a bike to contribute, however. Some volunteers wrote tax deduction receipts, collected shipping money donations and helped fold down bike pedals and handlebars to maximize storage space.

“It’s a great opportunity to get the community involved in international affairs,” said former Peace Corps volunteer Christina Gasiewski, 37, of Deer Park, as she and her son, Mason, 3, loosened and folded down handlebars.

Gasiewski served in the Peace Corps on the Caribbean island of Grenada as a health care volunteer from 2004 to 2006. She felt it was important to continue the work at home and introduce her son to it.

“Can we do another one?” Mason asked.

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