Bike drive continues to build community in Sammamish

Nine years after it began, Mark Trask and ARAS Foundation continue to partner with Village Bicycle Project on building community around Sammamish, donating bikes to Africa.

Of all Mary Trask’s concerns has each year before her annual bike drive, it isn’t the dozens of volunteers, hundreds of bikes or numerous agencies she coordinates with.

It is the weather.

“I always trust the number of volunteers and bikes will show up,” Trask said. “I just hope it doesn’t rain.”

The rain and cold temperatures were not a concern this year while Trask and her husband’s Sammamish-based nonprofit, ARAS Foundation, again partnered with Village Bicycle Project and a host of teens and other volunteers from throughout Sammamish for the four hour bike collection’s ninth year.

ARAS began the bike drive when Trask was looking for a productive use for an old bicycle she no longer needed.

Hoping to keep it out of a landfill, and unimpressed with the idea of selling it second-hand, Trask began looking around for a place to donate it. She decided to check if any friends or family members were in a similar situation and soon found herself with a truckload of bikes looking for a new home.

She found Village Bicycle Project, an international organization that collects bikes from around the world and ships them to Africa, and in the years since has collected more than 5,000 bikes, not including the 642 collected this year.

“The community loves this project,” Trask said. “Even if I don’t think I’m going to have enough volunteers, people always end up showing up.”

Trask said she begins collecting bikes in January, working through a network of volunteers and community coordinators she has cultivated over the years. As the Sammamish collection day approaches she said it has become common for high school students, churches and other groups to hold their own bike collections around the area and link up with the ARAS drive to get the bikes to Africa.

Tinuola Dada, a 15-year-old sophomore at Eastside Catholic, connected with Trask in 2012 and held two drives of her own this year before bringing around 35 bikes to the collection. She and her mother also spent time staging bikes for loading and cultivating parts from bikes that could not be sent whole.

“It is cool to see the whole community coming together,” she said.

Along with volunteers and schools in Sammamish, Trask said the community’s willingness to provide bicycles in great condition and in such volume has been the real key.

Jep Fuller, who has lived in Sammamish with his family for the past two and a half years, was one of those who dropped by to make a donation, leaving a pair of bikes for a cause that hits close to home.

“I heard about it from a flyer at the coffee shop,” he said. “I have three children who are adopted from Africa, so we thought this would be a good cause.”

Meg Watson of Village Bicycle Project said the group has donated more than 65,000 bikes in total, and also has employees on the ground in African countries to receive the shipments and manage the distribution of the bikes. While the process seems simple – hand out bikes to those in need of transport – the logistics quickly become immersed in political strife and can lead to unintended consequences when not managed properly, with militants strong-arming villagers and stealing the bikes.

Village Bicycle Project also trains mechanics in villages to work on bikes and salvage spare parts.

Watson said of all the groups and individuals she has worked with on bike drives, Trask stands in a class by herself.

“She anticipates everything,” Watson said. “I’ve never seen a single glitch, she is amazing at bringing community together.”

Some of the hundreds of bikes collected this year. JOSH SUMAN, ISSAQUAH-SAMMAMISH REPORTER

Bikes were staged for shipping in the cargo container by lowering the handlebars and facing the tires in a straight line. JOSH SUMAN, ISSAQUAH-SAMMAMISH REPORTER

Volunteers work to receive and prepare bikes for loading. JOSH SUMAN, ISSAQUAH-SAMMAMISH REPORTER

Tinuola Dada and a volunteer prepare a bike for staging. JOSH SUMAN, ISSAQUAH-SAMMAMISH REPORTER