Bicycles get thrown out or are left abandoned on bike racks in the United States every year.

Thanks to Working Bikes, a few thousand of them are kept out of landfills.

Working Bikes is a nonprofit organization on the south side of Chicago that recovers discarded and donated bicycles, gives them new life and donates them to individuals in developing countries, as well as disadvantaged residents of Chicago.

Kids Riding Bikes

Photo courtesy of Working Bikes.

Their goal? To provide bikes to people who need them, no matter where they are in the world.

The organization receives bikes from a variety of sources, including individual donors, police departments and property management companies.

Working Bikes donates over 6,000 bicycles each year as tools of empowerment to its international and local partners.

“I think bikes are very important and a practical tool,” said Paul Fitzgerald, general manager of Working Bikes. “They can really improve people’s lives.”

Making a Global Impact

In 2016, 6,525 bikes were shipped in 15 containers to partners throughout Latin America and Africa, including El Salvador, Zambia, Botswana, Malawi, Tanzania, Lesotho and Ghana.

The containers leave Chicago by rail, travel over water and are taken from port to project by Working Bikes’ international partners. The partners then fix the bikes and allocate them in their communities.

Bikes in Uganda

Photo courtesy of Working Bikes.

The bikes help break transportation barriers, providing easier access to employment, markets, education, medical attention and other resources. They also create employment and economic opportunities for mechanics and bike shop staff, including five local women who manage and operate the Chipego Bike Shop in the Nakatindi Village in Zambia. Bikes that are fixed in the shop are sold to the residents at affordable prices.

When asked what the most rewarding part of the job is, Fitzgerald said creating new opportunities for people who find value in something that’s being underutilized.

Taking Care of Their Own

Working Bikes also works with partner organizations to give bikes, locks and helmets to low-income communities in Chicago.

Last year, 1,796 bikes were provided to adults and children through Working Bikes’ local donation programs. Local donations serve transitional housing, people living on the street, ex-offenders upon re-entry to society and veterans.

Volunteer mechanics refurbish all of the organization’s locally donated bikes, who last year logged over 6,471 hours of repair work. Other members dedicated their time to collecting bikes, conducting outreach and loading containers for international shipments.

Without volunteers, Working Bikes would not have a donation program at the local level.

“The volunteers are totally essential to fulfilling our mission,” Fitzgerald said. “If they weren’t here, we wouldn’t be able to donate the bikes.”

Mechanics Working on Bikes

Photos courtesy of Working Bikes.

And while Working Bikes relies a great deal on bicycle donations – collecting about 9,000 a year – the storefront, where it sells bikes, funds its nonprofit operation. Bikes that are sold on the sale floor are fixed by professional mechanics who spend about four to five hours on each bike. On average, each bike costs $215.

Proceeds from shop sales cover the costs of shipments to international recipients, transporting bikes from donors in Chicago, buying new tools for volunteers, paying staff members and more.

Working Bikes Sales Floor

Photos courtesy of Working Bikes.

“Our mission really is to find a resource that is being underutilized and leverage it to the most good,” Fitzgerald said.

So far, so good for Working Bikes, which has donated over 65,000 bicycles since 1999.

If you would like to donate bikes, parts or accessories, you can bring your donations to Working Bikes’ warehouse or to any one of its drop-off locations in the Chicago region. To donate money, email donations@workingbikes.org. To volunteer, email volunteer@workingbikes.org.

Budget Dumpster is your community-focused source for a dumpster rental in Chicago. This article is part of a series spotlighting organizations that are making a difference in the communities we serve. If you know of another great organization, let us know in the comments!