Over the past four years, Gahanna resident Kate Koch Gatch has helped put 1,211 bicycles under the Christmas tree for children in foster care.

Over the past four years, Gahanna resident Kate Koch Gatch has helped put 1,211 bicycles under the Christmas tree for children in foster care.

For her efforts, Gatch is among 20 finalists for the 2012 Jefferson Awards, which recognize people who do extraordinary things in their communities without expecting a reward.

The annual bike donation to Franklin County Children Services' (FCCS) Holiday Wish program started as a way to give back, Gatch said. In 2009, it grew into a community partnership and nonprofit, volunteer-based organization called Bike Lady, Inc.

"My former husband and I adopted a baby from Franklin County Children Services and we wanted to give something back," she said.

Gatch knew about the holiday wish program to distribute presents to children with a history of abuse and neglect, but she wanted to do more.

"I thought about something bigger than normal, sharing our joy in adopting this child," she said. "It was a perfect storm. In talking with my caseworker, a lot of people aren't aware that foster parents and children are under so many restrictions. They can't go to a public pool or to an overnight. They can't, can't, can't because of liability reasons."

But there's nothing that prevents them from riding a bike around the block, Gatch said.

"In tandem with that, a new bike is a pretty popular Christmas gift," she said. "Most people remember their first bike - maybe it was green with a banana seat. It's a positive memory. Kids in FCCS care don't have a lot of positive memories."

Her original goal was to donate 10 bikes in 2008, but that number grew to 125 with the help of family, friends and publicity from a column in the Columbus Dispatch.

Since then, as director and founder of Bike Lady, Inc., Gatch coordinated the donation to FCCS of 212 bikes in 2009, 524 in 2010 and 351 in 2011. The contribution also included helmets and locks.

Gatch became known as the bike lady after she told an Easton Walmart employee that she was to receive helmets with additional bikes from the store.

"The Walmart guys and associates have ear buds and I was talking to a clerk and he (relayed) 'I have the bike lady here,'" she said.

This year Gatch will try a new strategy by launching the grassroots-fundraising campaign between June and September instead of starting at Thanksgiving.

To donate or learn more about the cause, look online at bikelady.org.

"There's some magic associated with a new bike under the Christmas tree that resonates with the community at large," Gatch said. "I do this simply because I can and I'll do it as long as that holds true. The (Jefferson) nomination is like hitting gold at the end of a rainbow." Elizabeth Crabtree, FCCS volunteer director, nominated Gatch for the award.

"I've had the pleasure to watch these kids and family members get the bikes," she said. "It's absolutely overwhelming. Sometimes it's a relative like a grandparent raising the children." The department received a call from the grandma of a bike recipient, who said her grandson was so proud of the bike and it was a huge deal for him, she said.

"To watch these grandmas come in and see the tears of joy to get these bikes," Crabtree said. "To give a bike is a simple thing to give a kid, but it brings a piece of joy and happiness. It's a great thing to do."