Jeff Powell has enjoyed bicycle mechanics since he was 15. He also likes recycling items, especially seeing them have a new life. Three years ago, he joined his two passions to create a charitable organization: Bikes for Syria.
The Bikes for Syria Project, as outlined on Powell’s Facebook page, restores and recycles bicycles, bicycle parts and other “human-powered transport,” including wheelchairs, so that they can be used again.
Bikes go to NuDay Syria, a New Hampshire-based humanitarian aid organization for women and children focused in Syria. The refurbished bikes also go to local people in need.
Powell, of Dublin, said he always did some sort of charity work. Retired from his work in information technology, in addition to fixing up bikes to re-home, he fixed computers for drop-in centers to be used for writing resumes.
He started Bikes for Syria after his son passed away, he says, as a way to get through his grieving process.
He was going through his son’s things, which included some bicycles. A volunteer with NuDay Syria suggested he donate the bikes to the organization.
“I figured they sent clothes and medical supplies,” he says. “But I thought, ‘Bikes, really?’”
He received feedback on the first batch he donated and was asked if he had more.
Today, he’s fixed and sent more than 1,200 bikes to children in Syria — many of whom have never ridden a bike because they’ve grown up in refugee camps. NuDay Syria volunteers pass out the bikes and teach kids how to ride.
“It’s my therapy,” Powell says.
His operation is very straightforward: he works solely on donations of bikes and parts.
“I don’t do cash,” he notes.
He doesn’t want to step on the toes of local businesses, so if someone is looking for a bike to purchase or bike repair, he sends them to a bike shop. If a bike is too delicate or complex, he will not add it to the donations — simple and sturdy works best. If he has any that are intact or repairable, he also adds a rack to each bike.
“I’ve gotten adept at hand-machining,” he says.
About 90% of the bikes he receives are fixed and shipped to Syria.
Each bike he numbers (with a little red sticker) for inventory, of which he keeps track in a spreadsheet that also includes his out-of-pocket costs.
Once a week, he strips bikes of parts he will recycle for the next batch that he receives that will need them.
“Parts are never wasted,” he says.
Powell maintains partnerships with area bike shops and collectors, with whom he sometimes swaps bikes and parts. On that list are two organizations with a similar mission: The Bellows Falls Community Bike Project in Vermont; and The Queen City Bike Collective in Manchester.
Those who support his mission at nearby transfer stations, he says, will be on the lookout for potential donations.
Powell has a bay in his carriage house that holds 50 bikes.
When that bay is full of bikes ready to go, NuDay Syria picks them up in a box truck and takes it from there.
Having reinforcement that what he is doing is making a difference in people’s lives is what motivates him.
“Every now and then, I get pictures of kids riding down a dirt road on bikes with my red inventory tags,” he says, noting that each child is wearing a huge smile. “The joy is profound.”
For more information about Bikes for Syria, visit the organization on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicole S. Colson writes from Swanzey, New Hampshire.