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Outreach ministry provides wheels for children, homeless

Linda Lawrence fixes a bike through Edgewater's outreach ministry. Last year more than 700 bicycles were repaired. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

By John Gordon*
Jan. 4, 2007 | PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (UMNS)

Retiring to Florida after Army careers, Paul and Linda Lawrence were looking for a place to "fit in" at their church.

They found it by repairing bicycles for children, the homeless and others struggling without transportation.

"Neither one of us knew anything about a bicycle," said Paul Lawrence. "I hardly knew what the wheel went around on."

Now, the Lawrences spend four hours a day, five days a week repairing bicycles at Edgewater United Methodist Church. Some of the bikes are donated, but most are abandoned and given to the church by area police departments.

The couple took over the ministry three years ago with the help of another church member, Lawrence Lee, who used to work in a bicycle shop and is homeless. The three refurbished more than 700 bicycles in 2006 — a record number for the outreach.

"We totally rebuild them," Paul Lawrence said. "We will take them — bottom brackets, cranks, ball bearings, spokes. Anything you can think of, that's what we do to the bikes."

Some bikes need only minor repairs, such as fixing a flat tire, and are street-ready in as little as 10 minutes. Other repairs are more challenging, taking up to three days.

 Lawrence Lee helps repair bikes at Edgewater United Methodist Church. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

"I enjoy it because I know it's going to help somebody out," Linda Lawrence said.

"I told my husband I wasn't going to be a gofer," she added. "If I was going to do this ministry, I was going to actually get just as dirty and work on bikes."

The Lawrences met while both were in the Army. They retired 11 years ago as master sergeants.

Paul Lawrence said he was not content to spend his retirement years fishing or playing golf.

"We came upon this; now everything else is kind of secondary," he said. "When we started doing this, it was kind of like work. But now it's a hobby. We enjoy doing it."

‘We take care of everybody’

Lee provided much of the technical expertise after working 10 years as a bike mechanic. As someone who is homeless, he understands the importance of a bicycle.

"It's wheels …" he said. "It's transportation to get to work, to get to the grocery store, to get around."

Some bikes were given to families as Christmas presents. Others went to a school and to children living in foster homes.

Besides giving bikes to the homeless, the Edgewater bicycle ministry supplies them to residents of a halfway house for drug and alcohol abuse. Bicycles were also donated to migrant workers, and a shipping container was filled and sent to Haiti.

 Paul Lawrence adjusts the wheel on a bicycle that will soon be donated to someone who has no other transportation. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

The word has even spread to the county jail. Paul Lawrence related how an inmate at the Charlotte County Jail gave a map to a fellow prisoner who was being released. "He gave (him) a map to our shop so he could get a free bike.

"We take care of everybody," he added. "We don't really turn down anybody."

A life-changing outreach

Most of the bikes are given away, but some are sold at a church-operated thrift shop to help raise funds to buy the parts needed for repairs.

Lee rides his bicycle to the church each day and appreciates the outreach.

"It's hard to make it through life without help, even if you aren't homeless," he said. "Everybody needs a little help of some kind, if it's a pat on the back or a smile or a handshake."

For Paul Lawrence, the biggest bonus is seeing the smile on the face of a child who receives one of the bicycles.

"It changes everybody's lives," he said. "Bicycles — whether you give them away, whether you work on them, it changes your life. It does your heart good."

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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