Red Raccoon Bike Rescue helps to keep local cyclists rolling
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by Helen Hall
April 13, 2023
Many organizations had to figure out a different way of doing things during COVID.
Bike repair shops were essential services, but some community ones used a model where the public shared a workshop to do their own repairs. This didn’t allow for social distancing.
Out of this dilemma Red Raccoon Bike Rescue was born.
First operating outside in Victoria Park, where social distancing was easy, the volunteer-run organization now works out of the Treehaus Collaborative Workspace at 79 Joseph Street
Bikes are fixed by a group of about 30 volunteers. The work is done free of charge, but donations are appreciated by those who can afford to give to help cover the cost of parts and tools.
“It’s great to meet other people who are really enthusiastic about bikes,” said volunteer Gwyneth Mitchell.
Mitchell started to volunteer when she moved back to Kitchener after living in New Brunswick for six years. Volunteering not only taught her the new skill of fixing her own bike, but the group of volunteers turned into her social network as well.
Red Raccoon is heading into its fourth summer of operation. It is open every Saturday between 10am and 4pm. Bikes are fixed on a “first come first served” basis. No bikes are left at the shop. Volunteers figure out how many they can fix each Saturday and turn people away once the quota is met for that day.
As well as accepting donations, Red Raccoon receives money from grants and repairs donated bikes to be sold.
“We fix donated bikes in the winter and then sell them in the summer,” volunteer Margaret Santos said of the group’s effort to raise funds. “Between one thing and the other, we are winging it.”
This ability to make things happen with limited resources inspired the name of the non-profit organization.
“We identified with the animal’s great abilities with its hands, and with its scavenging skills, making the best of discarded stuff. Like a raccoon, we are pretty resourceful,” Santos said.
While they sell repaired bikes to adults, children’s bikes are given away.
In addition to their Saturday bike repair clinic on Joseph Street, the group does outreach at other locations, such as community centres, which brings its own rewards.
Mitchell talked about the joy of watching young kids visit their outreach clinic, pick out a bike and literally learn to ride right in front of the volunteers.
Santos said she first learned how to repair bikes when she went to a community bike repair shop because her bike needed to be fixed.
“It took me forever to fix it,” she says with a laugh. “But then I thought ‘Hey, I can do this’ and I’ve just kept fixing bikes.”
Both Mitchell and Santos said that there are many benefits to cycling and being a volunteer. Cycling has benefits for your health and the environment, and repairing bikes gives you a feeling of ‘empowerment’ and introduces you to others who enjoy cycling.
You can keep up-to-date on Red Raccoon activities by following them on Facebook and Instagram @redraccoonbikerescue
Red Raccoon is holding an Earth Day ride on Sunday, April 23.
The group will start at Waterloo Town Square and ride to Kitchener City Hall, where they will offer free tune-ups.
BIKE REPAIRS AND SALES – Red Raccoon Bike Rescue volunteers, from left, Margaret Santos, Jim Marston and Gwyneth Mitchell at the Saturday repair shop on April 8. Photo by Helen Hall