In early May, St. Pete resident and activist Rob Greenfield watched someone steal his bicycle in Gulfport.
The thief grabbed the bike outside of Sumitra Espresso Lounge, where Rob was working on his laptop with his custom, refurbished bicycle just a few feet away.
Greenfield looked up and saw a boy, maybe 14 years old, riding away; he chased him.
But when he could not catch up, and realized his bike was truly gone, barefoot and standing in the street, Greenfield decided to forgive the thief and turn the would-be traumatic event into something positive.
“I’m a believer in hate not being a good response,” Greenfield said.
He figured if kids are willing to steal bikes, there is enough demand for a community bicycle drive, where people can donate their gently used bikes just in time for the start of summer.
Teaming up with St. Pete Youth Farm, an organization that teaches young people about food, farming and nutrition, Greenfield quickly put his thoughts into action.
“A bad deed was done to me, so I turned that bad deed into a good deed,” he said.
The activist had already helped the farm get set up in the community early on in its development, and figured it had the perfect network to help him do some good. The organization agreed, and contacted two bike shops, the St. Pete Bicycle Co-op and Speakeasy Underground Bike Shop, to help them fix donated bikes and fit them to their new owners.
“Our place in the community is taking bikes in disrepair and putting them back in use,” explained Kendall Reid, a volunteer at the Co-op. He said the bicycle drive is giving them a perfect opportunity to keep at it.
Carla Bristol, collaboration manager at the St. Pete Youth Farm, is also working with the St. Pete Police Department and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to collect abandoned bicycles from buses, confirm they are not listed as stolen and then add them to the donation collection.
The Youth Farm is hoping to donate around 30 bicycles this summer, along with helmets and locks. They will also be working with the Co-op to provide basic bicycle maintenance classes designed to keep their beneficiaries rolling long into the future.
“A lot of kids who may have summer jobs, if they could figure out how to navigate our streets (on bikes) they could use it as a new mode of transportation as our city becomes more bikeable,” Bristol said.
Bristol also noted that despite growing up around bicycles and having a father who was an avid cyclist, she didn’t know how to ride until her 30s. She hopes this program will inspire young people who don’t know about cycling, or don’t have the means to cycle, to come out and learn alongside a supportive community.
Through the Youth Farm’s collaboration with Rob Greenfield, they also hope to contribute a proactive solution to bicycle theft, which is an ongoing issue in the St. Pete area.
According to Sandra Bentil, a public information specialist for the St. Pete Police Department, the issue is growing downtown, where police officers have experienced an uptick in bicycle-related theft.
But even those willing to pay for bikes have been having a hard time finding them this year.
Due to a global bicycle component shortage caused by Covid-19 shutdowns in factories and shipping ports, resale markets and programs like Youth Farm bicycle drive remain one of the best options for fixing and obtaining bikes in a timely, affordable manner.
Anyone who is in need of a bicycle can register with a form on the Youth Farm’s website. Bristol hopes the program will be ongoing, so those who are not able to receive a bike this summer will stay in the system and remain eligible when more become available.