Gahanna resident Kate Koch Gatch is pedaling a fundraising campaign to give 750 bikes to foster children in Franklin and surrounding counties this Christmas.
Gatch, aka the Bike Lady, is gearing for the fifth year to donate bicycles to the "Holiday Wish" program for local youths in the care of Franklin County Children Services and, for the first time, youth under the care of the six contiguous central Ohio counties.
Gatch has pursued creative partnerships this year so Friends of the Bike Lady could serve more children and more families.
Late last week, Gatch was short $2,500 to get a semitrailer 80 percent full of 400 unassembled bikes shipped directly from Huffy for assembly at Pickaway Correctional Institution (PCI) in Orient.
Individual and organizational donors stepped up for 48 hours, and Bike Lady raised enough funds to increase the load to 500 bikes, fill the semi and release the order.
"A last-minute grant from Columbus Public Health's Institute for Active Living was a significant contributor," she said.
As part of Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman's overall effort to encourage healthy living among children and adults, the Institute for Active Living was created in 2008 to reduce and prevent chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes by increasing Columbus residents' access to physical activity and nutritious food.
"Bicycling is one of the best ways to get kids active and grow up with a healthy lifestyle," Coleman said. "We're proud to invest resources through Bike Lady Inc. to deliver bicycles to approximately 500 local foster kids."
As donations continue to arrive, Gatch said, a second, smaller Huffy order will be released Nov. 15. Any funds received after that date will be used for retail bike purchases.
Donations should be made online at bikelady.org.
Gatch said it would be "out-of-this-world awesome" to hit the goal of 750 bikes for central Ohio foster children. The other 250 bikes would be split among contiguous counties.
"When there are 5,000 kids in care in Franklin County alone on any given day, that number would serve a small portion of the foster-child population, but for those who get a bike, their lives are changed for the better," she said.
Gatch said new children enter the foster system every day, and they don't come under the care of a child welfare agency unless they've experienced unfathomable trauma, astounding poverty or are completely alone without a single relative to care for them.
"We've learned that bikes truly change these young lives, and what these children and teens receive from the agency is often their only holiday gift," she said. "Seeing a new bike under the tree brings tears of joy, squeals of delight and hours upon hours of riding joy. And it's a positive lifelong memory -- something in short supply for these kids."
Gatch said the children could use the bikes to get to school, a team practice or a part-time job.
"They can use that bike to experience independence, joy and the thrill of riding no-handed down a hill," she said. "They can use that bike to be momentarily free of all the constraints associated with being a 'foster child.' That's one heck of a gift you could give."
This year's fundraising started July 4, and with nearly $22,500 raised to date, bikes are being delivered from the PCI in Orient, where inmates do the assembly.
The Huffy and PCI partnerships are getting nearly two bikes for the price of one over retail, Gatch said.
"I am overwhelmed with gratitude towards PCI for agreeing to this project," she said.
Gatch receives about 40 percent of her donations from corporations and organizations, with 60 percent coming from individuals. Her largest corporate supporter is the ABB Foundation, from ABB Inc. in Westerville.
Dave Chappell, ABB proposal engineer, said $25,000 has been donated over the past three years, including $10,000 this year.
ABB became involved after one of its employees had seen a posting on a Grandview Heights Facebook page several years ago.
"One of our employees is a Grandview alum, as is Kate," he said.
For the past three years, the ABB has helped the Bike Lady through direct and matching grants.
"We have a slogan ... to improve the lives of others where we have employees," Chappell said. "We've chosen to help organizations that help to directly affect children. We have 20 offices in the U.S. We try to pick charities locally."
Nationwide Children's Hospital Center for Injury Research and Policy already has donated 750 helmets to go with the bikes.
Meijer also is donating 750 fabric bags to hold the helmet, a lock and cycling safety information.
Gatch is looking for a printer to photocopy 750 sets of cycling safety information.
In addition to making online donations, checks can be made payable to Bike Lady Inc. and sent to P.O. Box 311, Blacklick, 43004.
Contributions also can be made by selecting and purchasing a bike, helmet and lock and dropping them off between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at FCCS Holiday Wish Santa's Workshop, 855 W. Mound St., during the holiday season.