Written by Connie Larkman
It started as a program to give undocumented Latinos a way to get to work. It expanded to include a way to teach unemployed people a skill. Now, the Congregational Church of Patchogue UCC is using its "Workers without Wheels" program as a way to provide transportation for those stranded by Hurricane Sandy.
"We don't care who you are," said the Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter, "we are giving bikes to anybody."
The pastor of the Long Island, N.Y. church says with gas rationing, four-hour waits for gas, and an increased police presence at gas stations in his community, people need a way to get around.
"A bike," Wolter declared, "is a symbol of freedom from my childhood."
And with many neighborhoods still not navigable by car, bikes can get one where you need to go. Since Sandy, Wolter's program has given more than 30 bikes away to those in need of transportation, and he says he probably has 50-70 more still available –– bikes that he thinks will go quickly once the word gets out.
"Often the calamity doesn't begin to surface until you can get a good narrative of what's going on," Wolter said. "What I am hearing is there's a lot more devastation to be seen and documented" once the power is returned to the tens of thousands still without electricity.
While the congregation of the Patchogue UCC didn't escape without hardship –– the three bike mechanics involved in the "Workers without Wheels" program have damages at home to deal with –– the pastor is reaching out to assist those less fortunate. Wolter is offering to assist other churches and organizations in getting a similar program started, "to talk people through" duplicating this idea.
"It's a program that has really taken off, for health and for exercise, for the environment and stewardship of the earth. No fossil fuels whatsoever,"Wolter said, "and it can definitely can be a solution for some right now."
To get in touch with Wolter, go to the church's website.