MILL VALLEY, Calif. (Debora Villalon) -
So much has been lost by so many in the North Bay fires.
Now a big effort is underway to replace something very important to children: their bicycles.
On Saturday, from 10 a.m. 2pm, hundreds of donated bicycles, both new and used, will be distributed to fire victims at the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department in Santa Rosa.
"Sixty percent of the fire personnel in Marin live in Sonoma County," said bike drive coordinator Mike Coleman, a fire engineer for the Southern Marin Fire Protection District.
He runs an annual bicycle drive during the winter holidays, but this year, at the request of CalFire, he shifted it to fire victims instead.
"No hesitation, all of us said 'no problem,'" said Coleman, " because it's all about the kids and putting a smile on people's faces. At the end of the day, we enjoy what we do and this is why we do it."
Tuesday evening, the huge library at the former theological seminary in Mill Valley was bustling with volunteers, getting bicycles ready for new homes.
On one level, more than 500 bicycles in various states of repair. One floor up, volunteers assembling bikes and fixing up those that need some TLC.
"I don't know if this one will work, it looks kind of dead," said one helper, as he tried to pump air into a flat tire.
Supplies such as pedals and cables, lube and tubes, were provided by the organization "Trips for Kids," which partnered with the fire department.
"Kids are going to be stoked to have a bike again, that's your first sense of freedom," said development director Andy Phelps.
Trips for Kids refurbishes and sells about 2,000 bicycles a year at its San Rafael shop.
It uses the funds to provide excursions for disadvantaged youth.
Staff has seen first-hand what having a bike can mean to a child.
"If they're sitting around with hardly anything left from the fire, just having a bike and riding around on it, might help you forget all the tough stuff that's going on," said Phelps.
For a few weeks, people have been bringing bikes to fire stations with the Marin County Fire Department, and the Southern Marin Fire District weeks.
At least 700 bicycles have been collected so far, and donors are encouraged to bring bikes until Dec. 1.
Organizers hope to expand the giveaway to Napa County fire households as well.
All styles of bikes are welcome, and all sizes.
"Whether you're a kid or an adult, a bike is a great way to get started back to some normalcy," said Capt. Doug Paterson, of the Southern Marin Fire District.
"Hopefully, nobody gets left out, and we're trying our best to make sure we get to everybody who deserves a bike, and needs a bike."
Among volunteer mechanics, all skill levels were welcome.
"I'm taking the easy bikes, cleaning and lubing and pumping up tires," said cyclist Kristi Loo.
Alongside her, worked about ten member of the Tamalpais High School mountain biking team.
"I definitely know what it means to have a bike and what a bike can do for someone," said student Clodagh Mellett.
Volunteer Garry Lawler joked that his Wall Street job left him "massively underqualified" to build bicycles.
"I do remember doing this in high school though, and we had three friends lose houses in Santa Rosa, so I'm just trying to help out."
Tuesday evening, in just a few hours, more than 400 bikes were spruced up and safety-checked.
Monetary donations are also welcome, and are used to buy new bicycles at cost from Mike's Bikes, based in Marin.
"We all know what it was like to get a bike and lose one, then get it back," said Matt Adams, President of Mike's Bikes, "and it's a small step in the process for victims, but it's the little area where we can help."
To receive a bicycle, fire survivors are advised to fill out a form found on the Southern Marin Fire District's Facebook page. Identification will be required, to cross-check with the CalFire maps, to make sure recipients are from burn areas.