In the staging area at the Farmers Bank and Trust downtown Great Bend branch, a row of bicycles of all sizes lined a wall. Some had training wheels and others were for older children.
This was a first for the bank’s annual Light Up a Child’s Christmas program. Of all the over 300 children who had been included on the giving trees, 16 kids asked for a bike. Thanks to a cooperative effort with the Ellsworth Correctional Facility, all those requests will filled.
“There will be a lot of happy children,” said Charell Owings, one of Farmers Light Up a Child’s Christmas organizers. “This was a real coup.”
“This is just a wonderful turn of events,” said Great Bend Tribune Managing Editor Dale Hogg. It was Hogg, an avid cyclist, who came up with the idea to contact ECF.
“My wife and I were talking and she said there were several kids on the tree who wanted bikes,” Hogg said. “We discussed possibly sometime in the future we could buy a bike or two for the effort.”
Then it hit him. Hogg is also a member of Be Well Barton County, a leadership coalition promoting safe cycling and walking, and through this was aware of ECF’s bike restoration program.
Inmates take bikes destined for landfills and breathes new life into them. The finished products are provided at no cost.
After a few phone calls and emails between Hogg, Sgt. Phillip DeCouteau, who heads up the ECF bike shop, and Owings, the plan fell together. This was a last-minute request, but it just so happened that DeCouteau had enough bikes of the right size to meet the need.
Hogg and John Smith drove their pickups to Ellsworth Tuesday morning to retrieve the bicycles.
“This is cool on two fronts,” Hogg said. “First, it helps brighten Christmas for these deserving kids and, second, it gets bikes in the hands of more youngsters who can now get out and experience riding and being active outdoors.”
Hogg said the effort would not have been possible without DeCouteau and ECF. Now, there is a chance through this contact that bikes will be available for kids on the bank’s tree next year and for years to come.
DeCouteau said they are excited to be able to help. To keep the program rolling, he said they could use donations of tires and tubes, the parts that wear out the fastest and can cost the most.
One can contact him at 785-472-6357 or Phillip.DeCouteau@doc.ks.gov.
About the bank’s program
This marked the 25th year for the program. It is designed to help many needy families during the holiday season fill those Christmas wish lists.
Here’s how it works: “Giving trees” at both of the Farmers Bank & Trust locations, 1612 Main downtown and at 10th and Harrison, have information on them about the children enrolled in the program this year. Participants can either donate funds, so the bank staff can shop for the children, or they can choose a child from the tree and purchase items themselves.
This year, there were 314 names on the trees. In addition, gifts were purchased for 50 children in the Head Start Program and at the Great Bend Girls’ Home.
The families came into the Main Street location Tuesday afternoon to pick up the presents.
“We are lucky to be part of an amazing community who donate gifts and time by helping us wrap gifts for over 300 children,” Owings said. “We also have a great team at Farmers who helped wrap gifts, sort, and distribute the gifts. The employees at our Downtown location put forth a great deal of their time and energy to make this project a success year after year and we would not be able to do this project without everyone’s combined efforts.”
For several years the Great Bend Fire Department has also helped by donating a check to the program. The money donated comes from the Great Bend Fire Department Social and Charity organization, which raises funds with an annual spaghetti feed and other events.
This year the fire department presented a check for $1,000 to Light Up a Child’s Life.
For more information on the Light Up a Child’s Life Christmas program call either of the Farmers Bank locations in Great Bend: 792-2411 or 792-1431.