Christmas Bikes for Kids…
Redding paramedic Ted Blankenheim noticed a lot of Shasta County kids in need, and a donation box to help “kids be kids” was placed at the former Starbucks on Eureka Way. Blankenheim donated money and gifts to it for many years until something caught his eye one day.
“I saw a guy wheel in a brand-new bike, and I thought, ‘That’s what every kid needs,’” he says. Afterwards, Blankenheim went out and bought 38 bikes and a couple of teddy bears, mentioned it on Facebook, and Bikes for Kids was born. That was 20 years ago, and the grassroots effort to get bikes in the hands of kids in the foster system and others in need continues to grow. Now, around 300 to 400 bikes are donated to the cause. “Hundreds of people come in every year to donate bikes,” Blankenheim says.
Blankenheim spends a month dedicated to Bikes for Kids (from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas), collecting and storing the bikes. Then on Christmas Eve morning, all the bikes are lined up and sorted based on age-appropriateness and height, and local entities like the Redding Fire Department and police help distribute them. They even have bikes for teens and those who’ve aged out of the foster care system and could still use a mode of transportation.
As Bikes for Kids grew, Blankenheim partnered with Youth & Family Programs, and everything is now run through them. They usually send a letter out to agencies that help children to identify those who could benefit from a bike, and Blankenheim works to collect and deliver the bikes.
The collection point is now the Starbucks on Churn Creek Road just north of South Bonnyview, and it is still actively collecting donations for kids in the Shasta County foster care system – including the bikes. “People as far away as Arizona, Washington State, Australia and Germany who used to live in Redding but still keep kids in their hearts continue to donate bikes every year,” Blankenheim says.
Places like Budget Blinds, Dill’s Deli and AAA help store and deliver the bikes as it gets closer to Christmas. In years past, Budget Blinds has even donated a bike for every job they sell, which has been upwards of 30 bikes some years. “There are really generous people here…a lot of people donate every year, they come in with one to four bikes,” Blankenheim says.
While the identities of kids are protected, Blankenheim has met many beneficiaries and has personally delivered a lot of bikes himself. He remembers taking gifts to one young struggling mother who had a set of twins and a 4-year-old who went through an 18-month education program. “She had a pristine apartment; I delivered three tricycles to them, and the kids squealed when they saw them,”
Blankenheim is adamant that 100 percent of what comes in goes toward purchasing bikes and/or getting them in the right hands. The Mercy Medical Center trauma unit has also donated brand-new bike helmets in the past. “I’m not taking all the credit because so many people are a part of this,” Blankenheim says.
“Service organizations get a hold of me every year and donate money anonymously. I have friends who donate from South Lake Tahoe. A German man who lives in Texas donates every year. A lot of people from American Medical Response, Mercy, Shasta Regional Medical Center donate – this
is big in the emergency services community,” he says.
As a former fire chief and paramedic, Blankenheim has “been in thousands of homes and saw kids in rotten circumstances, so I think this is good for our hearts,” he says. His fellow friend and firefighter Jeremy Stoke who was killed in the Carr Fire used to help a lot with Bikes for Kids, too, and many bikes went to those who were affected by the fire that year.
Over the past 20 years, around 7,000 bikes have been donated. “So many kids have nothing…they go from house to house with just a garbage bag of belongings. I’m really trying to show that someone cares about them, and promote education,” he says.•