Brittany Farnsworth, 27, of South Tampa, put tiny reindeer antlers on her dog, Bella, who participated with her in the third annual Winter Wonder Ride at Hyde Park Village.
“I used to cycle for Ohio State and I love seeing young kids getting involved in cycling,” said Fransworth, who transported her King Charles spaniel in a basket attached to her handlebars.
Drew Weatherford, 28, of South Tampa, the president of Onbikes, said all of the proceeds from the Dec. 14 ride are going directly toward the purchase of bikes for area children. Weatherford and other volunteers for Onbikes planned to give out bicycles to at-risk children at The Dream Center of Tampa and other locations the weekend before Christmas.
More than 500 people participated on the 6-mile ride down Bayshore Boulevard including Anne Pittman and her son, Stuart, 11, a fifth-grader at St. Mary’s Episcopal School.
“Getting a bike for Christmas is the America dream for children,” Pittman said. “We live in South Tampa so bike riding is part of the fabric of life around here. We thought it would be fun and because it was for charity, that made it even better.”
Weatherford said the idea for Onbikes came after a group of 20 friends got together for a bicycle ride to enjoy Bayshore.
“We started talking and telling stories of getting our first bikes as kids,” Weatherford said. “It was an organic conversation that led to us realizing that a lot of kids will never have an opportunity to have a bike as a kid. By the end of the bike ride, we decided to raise money to buy kids bikes for Christmas.”
Weatherford and co-founder Julius Tobin, vice president of Onbikes, organized the first charity bicycle ride in 2011. The men went door-to-door on Christmas Eve handing out bikes in the Ybor City area. The Dream Center of Tampa, which is sponsored through Grace Family Church in Lutz, helps them identify at-risk kids.
They have since expanded the program to reach children in other parts of Hillsborough County as well as Pasco County. They expect to hand out more than 250 bicycles this year through The Dream Center and the Dade City Boys & Girls Club.
Weatherford, a member of Grace Family Church, grew up in Carrollwood and Odessa in a family of nine children, all of whom spent a lot of time outside on bicycles.
“Our vision is extremely simple,” said Weatherford, who graduated from Land O’ Lakes High School in 2004. “We just want to be able to give kids an opportunity to have a bicycle. It opens up a whole new world for a child. A lot of kids wouldn’t be getting anything for Christmas and now they will be getting what’s arguably one of the coolest presents you could possibly receive.”
Tobin, 31, a business consultant in South Tampa and Weatherford’s former roommate, said he was overwhelmed by the response and participation this year.
Tobin said he remembers the first year they went door-to-door handing out bicycles.
“I’ll never forget the last house we went to, a lady comes out with a red shirt and Santa hat and she opened up her arms and said, ‘Thank you!’” Tobin said. “We all have other jobs – that’s great, but to give back is something else.”
Jeff Billiet, 28, of South Tampa, said it was his second-year volunteering for the charity event.
“It’s a fantastic event,” he said. “I remember my first bike experience. It’s fun to give that experience to young kids who might not be able to get a bike.”
Garrett Rivas, 28, of South Tampa, a physical education teacher at Berkeley Prep and a board member for Onbikes, said he always looks forward to giving out the bikes.
“Just to see the smile on their faces is so rewarding,” said Rivas, who wore a Minnie Mouse Christmas hat to get in the spirit of the holidays.
For more information, visit onbikes.org.