'Bike Fairy' collects donated bikes for kids

Social media plea gets results for hundreds of children in need

ORLANDO, Fla. – Kathy Downs and Victor Thacker are this week's News 6 Getting Results Award winners. 

The two have collected and repaired more than 1,500 bicycles for area children in dependent care, often referred to as foster children. 

Downs says it all started with a simple post on social media.

Downs, a volunteer advocate for children, works with lawyers representing children in the Orange County dependency system. Volunteers are responsible for home visits to assess the child's needs. 

"I took on the case for a 9-year-old girl and I noticed she had a bike with two flat tires (and) the seat was torn up. It wasn't going to be an easy repair," Downs said.

She posted an ad on her neighborhood social media network hoping someone had a bike they could donate.

"Six people responded," she said. "I told the other five that I had a bike for the child I was mentoring, but that I could find homes for the others. That's how it started."

Working with Bethanie Barber, director of the Legal Aid Society of Orange County's guardian ad litem program, she began collecting used bicycles from across Central Florida.

"We affectionately refer to Kathy as the 'Bike Fairy,'" Barber said. 

"What I have found is that people are very excited to know that the bike in their possession is going into the hands of the most needy child." Downs said. "We have a very giving community."

Barber said it's rare that a child is able to bring a bike with them to their temporary home.

"These kids are either abandoned, neglected or abused," Downs said. "When these kids get taken out of a situation, it's sudden, it's through bad circumstances. Very often, these kids get a Publix bag with one outfit and they're being removed very quickly and the police are involved." 

Downs and Thacker have transformed their Baldwin Park garage to meet the needs of their new charity. With spare tires, tubes and a repair stand, it looks like a mini bike shop. After a large donation, bikes can be stuffed end to end in the spot once reserved for a car.  

Thacker, a bike enthusiast, has taken on the role of mechanic.

"I know bikes like the back of my hand," he said while adjusting the brakes on a tiny bike with 16-inch tires. "When I'm not working on them, I'm riding them." 

Thacker has a drawer in his tool chest dedicated to inner tubes for children's bikes. 

"Some of these kids don't have anything," he said. "They're hoping for someone to show some kindness. It doesn't take a big investment, just an investment in time."   

If you are in the Orlando area and would like to donate a bike please email: kathleen.downs@roberthalf.com



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