Six years ago, Krystal Jo’s Diner owner Tony Tucker gave 25 bikes away to kids in Flint, Michigan. This year, during what has become an annual event, more than 1,200 kids will be given a bike.
According to M Live, Tucker was trying to figure out how he could give back to his community when he noticed kids weren’t outside doing anything, and there wasn’t anything outside for them to do. His own childhood is full of happy memories exploring on bikes with his friends, so he thought that could be his contribution.
He began finding old bicycles he could fix up. As the word got out about what he was doing, people started donating bikes. Most of them come from the community, but people from all over are beginning to donate to the cause.
“It is overwhelming in a positive way, there’s days I get tired, but when the kids come to the restaurant all excited saying, ‘When is the bike giveaway?!’ it charges you, brings you back.”
It started with one bike, Tucker said. And then it just kept growing.
This Saturday, June 8 at noon, the roughly 1,200 bikes will be given away during Community Education’s Summer Kick-Off at three locations: Neithercut Elementary, Brownell/Holmes STEM Academy and Potter Elementary. Registration is required but it is now closed, so those who haven’t registered will have to do so at the event. Tucker encourages everyone to arrive about an hour early if they have not registered yet.
In addition to the bike giveaway, the Summer Kick-Off will offer free food, free helmets, bounce houses and each location will have a DJ.
“There’s no guarantee they’ll get a bike, but I can guarantee they’ll have a good time,” Tucker said.
The Bicycle Man
Tucker began the bike giveaway six years ago working mostly by himself and giving the bikes away out of the Krystal Jo’s parking lot. Four years ago, he began working directly with Community Education and it became an annual event.
Before the partnership, the Summer Kick-Off used to average about 100 people. The first year the bike giveaway joined the event, more than 1,200 people showed up. That number continues to grow every year.
Tucker’s favorite part about the whole situation is the response he’s received from the community and the children who get bikes.
Multiple times, children have visited him at the diner and given him pictures they drew of themselves on their new bikes. Tucker has a collection of these pictures in his truck’s glove compartment. They never fail to cheer him up when he’s had a bad day.
Tucker laughs about the fact that he’s been in the restaurant business for 20 years, but he’s known in Flint as “The Bicycle Man.” A few times a week during the summer, Tucker said bummed out kids with a flat tire or other bike issues will come to the diner seeking his help. It happens so often he now always has an air compressor and patch kits in his truck.
It’s also just as common for kids to decorate their bikes with stickers or paint and then come to the diner to proudly show him. Tucker said it’s moments like those that make him think, “Maybe what I’m doing really is worth it.”
From 25 to 1,200
A lot of people have come together to support this cause and help it grow from 25 bikes to 1,200.
Tucker said people who don’t have anything at all but know about him and his project will see a bike on the side of the road and bring it to him for the cause.
He’s received multiple anonymous packages from other states, holding bikes or sometimes money. Last year, Tucker said a man who lives in Manchester, Tennessee who he’s never met before periodically mails him checks for the cause. Last year, he sent Tucker a $500 check three different times last year.
A few months ago, a young couple traveled from Indiana to Krystal Jo’s with two brand new bikes, still bearing the tags. They wouldn’t give Tucker their names, they simply wanted to help the cause.
The help Tucker has received over the years of doing this has gone much further than donating bikes. When it became clear there were far too many bikes for Tucker to keep at his home, he went to a lumber yard that had just been bought by Michigan Pipe and Valve in Mt. Morris, with the hope he could talk them into using the space for free. Within minutes, the business owner took him to a giant warehouse and said, “Is this good enough?”
A week later, that man died, but his son honored his father’s agreement and allowed Tucker to store his bikes in the warehouse free of charge.
On Friday, June 7 Steel Transportation Services, Inc. and members of the Grand Blanc High School Drumline will be helping Tucker load hundreds of bikes into two semi-trucks provided by Steel Transportation Services.
“The help I get is Godsent, that’s the only word for it,” Tucker said. “It is overwhelming in a positive way, there’s days I get tired, but when the kids come to the restaurant all excited saying, ‘When is the bike giveaway?!’ it charges you, brings you back,” Tucker said.
Now, Tucker is in the middle of creating a new non-profit organization: Krystal Jo’s Another Chance.
Tucker’s dream for the organization is to find a building he can work on the bikes out of with children who have gotten in trouble or are on probation and need to do community service. He hopes to teach them about bikes, giving back to the community and certify them as bike mechanics.
Tucker got into some trouble himself when he was younger and he said he needed more than a second, third, fourth or even fifth chance, which is why the organization will be called Another Chance.
“Out of all the kids who get caught up in the system-they say 10 percent will come out, succeed and live normal lives, and I would like to help that number,” Tucker said. “A lot of these kids just get hung up, they’re not bad kids, the reality is they just need to get around people who’ve been in their shoes. If they spent enough time around me and some of the guys who feel the way I do, maybe we can help.”
For more information about Community Education and Krystal Jo’s Bike Giveaway, click here.