PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The pressure to provide gifts for children at Christmas is real. For many families, they are very concerned about where the money will come from to pay for presents.
That’s where the United States Marine Corps, a bunch of firefighters, a retail giant, and a guy named Al come in.
Al’s Bike Drive started when Al Todd asked the Marine Corps how to help with a Toys for Tots campaign about a dozen years ago. The financial planner figured he would give them some money to buy presents for kids. Until he started asking a few questions.
“When you donate money to the Marines and the Toys for Tots program, they can only buy a toy up to $30 in value,” says Todd. “Anything bigger has to be donated directly — and he specifically mentioned bicycles.”
That got the North Hills financial planner thinking. How could he get a bunch of bikes to give to Toys For Tots?
In a few short months, he got a lot of bikes — 37 that first year.
What he didn’t know is how much of a blessing those bikes would be for local families.
“The parents are the ones that stress out,” says Linda McKenzie, of Beaver County Area Toys For Tots. She says they often wonder, “How am I going to get my kids something? If we are able to provide them with something that is on their little wish list, then it is even better.”
For more than 70 years, the United States Marine Corps has used the Toys For Tots campaign to help as many families as possible. Even big, tough Marines melt when they see a kid get a bike on Christmas.
Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Geppert is now retired from the Marine Corps, but for the past 30 years he has seen how Toys For Tots changes people at the holidays.
“The children — their eyes are as big as their heads, and they are like, ‘I’m so grateful for this,'” he said. “They would have never have got it if it were not for the Toys For Tots and for Al’s Bike Drive.”
Thursday morning, Al gave Toys for Tots 1,235 bicycles — bikes of all shapes and sizes. Many came from Fire Departments around the North Hills.
Chief Jim Kelly, of the Richland Volunteer Fire Department, says this is the first year for his station to participate. They were challenged by another department — and jumped at the chance to help.
“We are strictly volunteer, so we are not always there at the station,” says Kelly. “We would show up, and there was bikes sitting outside the door. So people saw it and they would drop off a bike or two, which is fantastic.”
Enter Walmart. The manager at the Gibsonia location, Ryan Pavelchick, applied for and received a corporate grant for $30,000 — enough money to boost the number of bikes big time.
“It’s wonderful for the community, and I had never actually been a part of anything this large,” admits Pavelchick. “I had done Shop with a Cop and Sheetz Family Christmas in prior stores, but I had never been able to participate in something so large.”
It all started when a local businessman wanted to make sure kids would have a Merry Christmas and simply reached out to his friends to help. Now he coordinates the size, color, and type of bicycles to buy by speaking with the Marine Corps throughout the year.
“Everything we do is all word of mouth and social media,” says Todd. “I like to tell people I am just a very fortunate guy with a lot of generous friends.”
And a bike drive that gets bigger by the year.