In a caring community, people help others in a range of ways, doing what they can to make life better for others.
Jay Chamberlain of Stafford County does just that, using his skills and connections to make life better for a growing number of his less fortunate county residents.
It started for the former FBI agent late last summer, when he took a look at an old mountain bike that wasn’t getting much use. He was still an avid cyclist—one committed enough to have spent years using a road bike and the VRE to commute from his home in southern Stafford to Fort Belvoir and a post-FBI job.
It’s just that the mountain bike wasn’t his cycle of choice any more. And that’s just what popped into his head one evening as Chamberlain was volunteering with other members of Christ Lutheran Church of Fredericksburg to provide a meal in coordination with Micah Ecumenical Ministries.
“I had always noticed that there were typically half a dozen or so bicycles parked or leaning against something at the church for these meals,” said Chamberlain.
When he asked Micah staffers if they thought they could find a client who might want his old mountain bike, the answer was a resounding “Yes!”
So Chamberlain went home and, using skills he had acquired over years of cycling and bike touring, bought some parts and did some work to get the mountain bike in good shape. When he delivered it to Micah staffers to find a new owner for the bike, Chamberlain learned that many who don’t have a car or money for a cab would benefit greatly from a donated bike.
That started Chamberlain on a personal journey of sorts that has seen him receive, repair and donate 33 bicycles to Micah, the Thurman Brisben Center, Loisann’s Hope House and Mary’s Shelter.
It started slowly, as word got out in Chamberlain’s neighborhood through church bulletins and on different local websites. He let people know that he would be glad to accept bicycles they no longer wanted. Local bike shops also started to help out, either by donating bikes or providing help for a special bicycle tune-up day Chamberlain and staffers started.
“For a while, I stored the bikes people were donating in a shed out back of my house and in my garage,” said Chamberlain, who still enjoys nothing more than a long trek on a back road or a special bike trail. “But after a while, the donated bikes grew larger than my space.”
A solution was found when he helped a friend acquire a large outdoor storage container, and claimed some space at one end as his reward for the acquisition.
He said the bikes he gets run the whole gamut, from adult-sized road models that probably went for about $1,000 new, to little kid-sized bikes. Repairs range from the addition of new tires and brake pads to reworked or cobbled-together derailleurs.
“Sometimes, I get bikes cheaply for parts at yard sales, and use pieces from them to fix several other bikes,” he said. “I also look for deals on parts and bike locks that I try to provide with each bike. It would be a shame to give someone a bike and then have it stolen from them when they park it somewhere.”
He said that one local bike shop has donated a number of bicycles, often ones taken in trade, and therefore difficult or impossible to resell. When the cost of Chamberlain’s bicycle recycling project started to climb, he was thankful to get some funding from his church to help cover some of the costs.
Though he doesn’t want to get overwhelmed, Chamberlain said he’s happy to provide his email address to anyone who would like to get in touch and donate a bike that isn’t being used.
So if you have a bike you don’t want, drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chamberlain said that anyone can donate money for parts by sending it to Christ Lutheran Church, 1300 Augustine Ave., Fredericksburg, VA 22401. Please note the checks for “bike ministry.”
“I know there’s a big need for these bicycles,” he said, adding that staffers at the different agencies he’s supplying say cheap transportation is a difference-maker for those in need.
Chamberlain said he’s enjoying the chance to help others by using skills he learned over years of cycling, and will do it as long as he can.
And though he’s too humble to say it, his project is proof that there are still great people in the world who use their skills to help those in need.