The guys who give away bicycles

Steve Oliver is behind the counter of Zummo’s Hardware in Norristown, PA. He’s replacing the bearings on a rusted bicycle wheel. Tools are scattered across a wooden counter nicked and worn from years of service.

Zummo’s Hardware recalls an era when people shopped at downtown stores on a Saturday, kids rode bikes barefoot, horse buggies outnumbered cars, and the Sears Mail-Order Catalogue was the Amazon of the day (actually better – Sear shipped entire prefab houses to people). Zummo’s is a family business, now owned and operated by Joe and J.J. Zummo, and celebrating its 100 anniversary.

I had met Steve in a previous career when he was selling early MacIntosh equipment and I was a computer novice. My first Mac ran out of storage and he introduced me to something he called an “external hard drive”.

“Hey Henry!” he said recently. “Remember that hard drive? A mighty 10 megabytes – top of the line!”

Steve eventually “got a divorce” from the computer business and started an entirely new business: finding and rehabbing shared homes for elders. “It’s being part of the village. We can’t just pay taxes. Wegottaactually do stuff for each other.”

He met Joe Zummo while buying supplies for his housing business, preferring local stores to big box stores. “We have to support the little guys.”

One Saturday, while Steve was at Zummo’s getting supplies, a 13 year old boy brought a bike in for repair. The employees were busy, so Steve fixed it. But the fix didn’t last, so Steve gave the boy a bike his son had grown out of. That got him and Joe talking about bikes and kids, and kids with nothing to do, and kids whose families couldn’t afford bikes. And that’s when Jeanie, Joe’s daughter who taught third grade, told Joe the biggest problem for elementary schools today is attendance.

Thus was born– the idea of giving bikes (“pre-owned and refurbished” ) to kids as a reward for perfect school attendance.

“Her school taught us the business”, says Steve. “Getting and giving away bikes is a business. It doesn’t make any money, but its still a business.”

The mission of Get kids to school.

The challenge to kids: “Never miss a class for a year and get a bike, helmet, and lock.”

This June, ten year old Amy Dieng was one of 38 out of 470 kids at Hancock Elementary with perfect attendance. Later Steve learned she had perfect attendance, not just that year, but every year of elementary school – and kindergarten. They gave her a brand new bike, blue with pink and white markings, along with a brand new helmet and lock.

She is shy and holds tightly to her father’s hand as she tells me: “Steve, he teach me how to use pedal and hand brake. I ride it outside with my cousin, around the apartment complex.”

“It made them very happy” says her father.

Also behind the counter is a lanky teenager who is cleaning a donated bike. Steve shows him how to flip it and put it on the counter so it’s easier to work on.

“Bocar comes in every Saturday morning for a few hours. He’s learning how to repair bikes. He’s a good man. Works hard.”

Bocar is Amy’s older brother. Their mom is a Home Aid caregiver. “And Dad’s getting a masters degree from Strayer University in three weeks,” says Steve.

Steve shows me the basement of Zummo’s. It is filled with bikes of all sizes and colors, some kept for parts, some almost new. Floor to ceiling shelves, jammed with new helmets, line both walls. I ask where he gets the bikes.

“All over. There’s a reverend in Somerdale New Jersey who gave us 75 last year.”

Later, an eight year old girl, Remi, tells me about the bike she got from Steve. “Because I was perfect attendance”,  she says, proudly.

“At the time we were so down financially”, says Remi’s Mom. Her husband had moved out and left the family. “With that bike, we were living in a dream world.”

“Remi was a good salesman”, says Steve. She grins as she describes the day she got her bike – and then told Steve about her two sisters, 15 and six.

“I gave them bikes, too.”

How many bikes have they given away?

“About 200 in the three years since we started”, says Steve. That’s around 200 students with perfect school attendance records.

And three guys – Steve, Joe, and JJ – with pretty good giving records.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)