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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Blake Pierce, director of the White Oak Bicycle Co-op, works on a bike during a pop-up bike giveaway in White Oak Park in Red Bank.

A lot of us remember our first bicycles, but in this digitized age, seeing kids outside playing has become less frequent. How do we encourage the next generation to get and stay physically active? What if a child doesn't have access to a bike? What then?

A local, volunteer-run nonprofit organization, White Oak Bicycle Co-op, is working to remedy this problem for area kids through its bike refurbishment program, which rebuilds donated bicycles then distributes them for free in the community. Launched in 2020, the co-op does this in part via monthly pop-up events at White Oak Park in Red Bank, held on the second Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon. Families are invited to attend, donate, bring a bike for repair or pick one up for their child. The bikes are freely given out on a first come, first serve basis, and the repairs are free as well.

For kids who don't necessarily have access or the opportunity to own a bicycle, this outreach is huge. In fact, so far in 2021, the co-op has given away 83 free bikes.

"We want to make sure[the bikes] look as if they just came off the store shelfthat the bikes are safe, and that they're also nice to have," says Blake Pierce, executive director of the organization. "We want to reduce barriers to access in a meaningful way."

That's partly why White Oak holds these pop-up events in the park — to not only give bikes to kids but also show people areas where they can play and enjoy the outdoors.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / A sign invites visitors to the bike giveaway in Red Bank.

Part of reducing barriers, Pierce says, is offering the tools to live a healthy life. And for kids, that comes in the form of physical activity. "It's not just that riding a bike helps [us] get in shape. More and more, especially with children, we know that them being physically active helps them do better in school, [and] have better emotional wellness," Pierce explains. Particularly during these stressful times, where kids have been stuck indoors and having high amounts of screen time, he says, that's especially important.

"It's been amazing, seeing families come up to the park, and children walk away with bikes. [We know] that they're going to go somewhere and ride them, and they're going to be active, and especially during this time, we need that. We live in an outdoor mecca. We've been told that for years, but we also need to make sure that everyone has access to the outdoors."

Need a bike?

White Oak Bicycle Co-op will host its next pop-up bike shop and giveaway on Saturday, November 13 from 9 a.m. to noon. Hosted at White Oak Park in Red Bank, volunteers will be on hand to offer bicycle repairs and refurbished bikes to kids at no cost as long as they are available. Learn more at whiteoakbicycle.org.

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