Two thousand six hundred and twenty-five!
That’s about how many bicycles members of the Conway Lions Club estimate they’ve given away over the 35-years of their Christmas project.
The tradition continued Thursday when the Lions set up in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church and quickly gave away 44 bicycles just in time for Christmas for children who otherwise wouldn’t be riding on two wheels on Christmas Day.
Linda and Joey Pritchett picked up two bicycles, one for their great-granddaughter who has been living with them ever since her 24-year-old dad died a couple of years ago.
“It was a real shock,” Mrs. Pritchett said.
The couple also has a 17-year-old living with them.
“I love ‘em to pieces,” Linda Pritchett said of the children. “I don’t think I could have gotten over it (the unexpected death) as well as I did if it hadn’t been for that little girl…Having her is one of my greatest pleasures.”
Her eyes welled up with tears as she talked about her family and the Lions’ generosity.
“It made me cry that someone cared enough to give to someone else,” Mrs. Pritchett said.
She predicts that her Palmetto Bays student will be excited when she gets her bicycle, but maybe a little afraid because she doesn’t know yet how to ride a bicycle without training wheels.
Shortly before her dad died, he bought the child a bicycle with training wheels, and her great-grandmother said, “She got where she was riding all over the place.”
Candida Parrish collected three of the bicycles: one for a girl and two for boys. Her daughter, one of five children, definitely wanted a bicycle, she said.
When someone from Kingston Elementary School called to tell her that three of her children had been selected to receive bicycles, she was certainly pleased.
“I was happy because I was trying to figure out a way to get ‘em a bike. When they called I was just thankful,” she said.
The bicycles will go to her 9-year-old daughter, 5-year-old son and a 6-year-old nephew.
She planned to hide the bicycles at her brother’s house until Christmas when she’ll put them beside her Christmas tree.
“I want to see the look on their faces. I know they’re going to be excited,” she said.
Melissa and Erik Laird were picking up bicycles for a son and daughter, who attend the Academy of Hope.
She predicted that the bicycles won’t sit idle for even a minute before the children hop on them and start riding.
When a school official called to tell her that her children had been selected to receive bicycles, she said, “I was ecstatic…Two of them were asking for bicycles for Christmas.”
She has seven children.
About the bicycle giveaway, she said, “I thought it was a real nice blessing.”
Lion Bill Graham, who’s been involved in the program for its entire 35 years, said, “You never know who you’re going to touch with something like this.”
The Lions asked home coordinators or school counselors at 11 elementary schools to each select four of their students to receive the bicycles.
This year’s schools included Carolina Forest, Palmetto Bays, Ocean Drive, Conway, Homewood, Waccamaw, Kingston, River Oaks, South Conway and the Academy of Hope.
Graham and the other Lions keep working with the project because they see it as a truly worthy cause, he said.
Lions collect the money in donations of $35 given in honor of or in memory of someone. They send letters to the honorees and the families of people who are being remembered saying someone gave in their names.
Also, he said, the Lions themselves are very supportive of the program financially and with offering their help.
Walmart is also a big help. They allowed the Lions to buy the bicycles on Black Friday at really good prices, Graham said.
“They had enough on hand to meet our needs,” he said.
But that’s not all. They put the bicycles together and stored them until the Lions were ready to distribute them.
“The feedback we receive is very positive,” Graham said. “Many comments are that they just can’t thank us enough for helping their child to get a bicycle at Christmas. They’re very appreciative.”
The Lions don’t care if the parents go right home and give their children their bicycles then or wait until Christmas and give them from Santa.
“The Lions Club is very appreciative of the people who have helped over the years,” Graham said.