Westporter Brooks Sumberg is a resourceful guy, so when he saw residents throwing out old bicycles he thought there had to be a better use for them. That's when he got the idea to start the Connecticut Bicycle Project.
They were good bikes, said Sumberg as he sat relaxed in his home on Hillspoint Road. There was nothing wrong with them. People just don't know what to do with old bikes. Sumberg enlisted the help of Roberto Sanchez, Director of the Food Pantry at Bridgeport's St. Charles Urban Center. The center is run by Catholic Charities and it is there where the bicycles are delivered and repaired.
Once the wheels were rolling with Catholic Charities, Sumberg was able to reach out to Fresh Start. Fresh Start is a Family Reentry program to help ex-convicts back into society by giving them jobs. The program proved symbiotic by allowing Sumberg to gain 501(c) status for his charity while providing work for the ex-convicts who repair the bikes.
They're grateful for anything they can get, said Sumberg. These are people who are shunned. Not a lot of people want to hire ex-cons, especially ones with no skills. These guys don't have any marketable skills.
In its first year, the project gave away more than 1,100 bicycles with the assistance of churches. However getting churches to help has been a bit of a struggle. Sumberg said some are too small, or the congregation doesn't have enough volunteers to help collect and distribute bicycles. Money has also been a problem. Prior to gaining 501(c) status Sumberg could not accept checks to fund the project. He said there was no money to buy new parts so bikes were being cannibalized. He hopes some of that changes.
His efforts have not gone unrecognized. Sumberg holds the honor of being one of the few Jewish Americans awarded with the Catholic Church's St. Augustine Medal. Sumberg keeps it framed in his basement office.
Sumberg has held a passion for helping others since he served in the Peace Corp in 1972, digging wells in Tunisia. Men and women aren't that different from one place to another, Sumberg said. They have the same basic desires. None wants to be poor or go without something. Sometimes they just need a hand.
Sumberg invites people to continue leaving bicycles at the foot of his driveway, 96 Hillspoint Road, or to contact him at (203) 293-4130 to find out how they can help. Sumberg said drop offs have become common. I've got two in my driveway right now, he said. When he gets 10, he takes them to one of the churches for repairs and distribution.Checks can be made out to Catholic Charities, with Connecticut Bike Project in the memo line.
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