The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office rolled out the spirit of the season during their second annual Christmas Bike Giveaway at the Intergenerational Recreation Center.
“We notified Santa Claus that we needed some help, and he responded in a very, very great way,” said Maj. Milo Thornton to the crowd of youngsters anxiously awaiting their new rides.
“We consider all of you family, and we want to make sure that we help wherever we can. This year (2020) has been tough for a lot of our families with COVID and the economic impact that it has had on our community,” Thornton added.
“We’re incredibly blessed to have some great friends that can help out with this. If we can make lives special and touch people, we want to be able to do that,” said Sheriff Eric Flowers, referencing the collaborative community and law enforcement effort.
Acknowledging the “amazing job” of law enforcement to protect our community, he added, “On behalf of all the great heroes that work at the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, thank you. We love our community, and we’re excited to be here for you.”
Thornton said that given the financial devastation the pandemic has wreaked on so many families, many of whom were already struggling, their needs were even greater – and so was the response.
The number of bikes given away increased from 75 in 2019 to 263 in 2020, thanks to the largesse of generous businesses, civic groups and residents.
Thornton credited Walmart and IRSCO team members Jennifer Gelesky, Dep. Cliff Labbe, Dep. Jessica Ogonoski, Jera Torres and Dep. Teddy Floyd with making the event a success.
“This isn’t something that happens everywhere across the United States. This is what living in a community is all about,” said David Moore, Indian River County school superintendent.
Walmart staff had assembled the bicycles, and helmets were given to children who didn’t already have one, or whose parents didn’t have the means to provide one.
“With all the things that happened this year (2020), I wanted to try to make sure we had a good Christmas for these kids,” said Oby Oses, Vero Beach Walmart manager.
He said they had to request bikes directly from the factory to meet the need.
Thornton shared that his mother had worked three jobs and still struggled to put food on the table and keep the lights on. Despite realizing there might not be a lot under the tree, he still always wished for a bike.
“It represented freedom. I could ride around the block with my friends and jump boards that we set up in the street. Just being kids,” he recalled.
Thornton said the relationships built by the Community Affairs Unit and School Resource officers help identify those families needing a little extra help.
“When we have kids that are underprivileged or in a tight financial situation, it can lead to frustration and other things. I want to make sure that those kids felt comfortable with the school resource officers. This program helps build that bridge of trust with those kids,” explained Thornton.
As the crowd chanted “Move that bus!” two yellow school buses parted to reveal Santa Claus surrounded by a sea of bicycles.
With eyes as big as saucers, children waited their turn to receive bicycles adorned with streamers, bells, racing stripes and even training wheels. They were escorted by officers from the IRSCO, VBPD and Sebastian PD, who sent them off into the proverbial sunset.
Photos by Kaila Jones