After 32 years, Ann Mathis is shutting down the annual Bicycle Man bike giveaway that she and her husband started in the Tiffany Pines community.
“I’m retiring,’’ Mathis said Friday. “It’s not an easy decision. It’s bittersweet.”
Saturday is the last day bikes and other donated items will go to deserving children. But Friday was all business for the soon-to-be 77-year-old Mathis, who took over the annual giving event when her husband, Moses Mathis, died in 2013.
Mathis was busy readying the warehouse at 1800 Wynfare Lane, directing volunteers who were setting up vendor tables. Zipping about in her mobility scooter, Mathis was pulling tables and directing where they needed to be set up. Along with repaired and new bicycles of all sizes and colors, the event also includes community organizations that provide items for the children.
Organizations include McDonalds, Panera Bread, the Cumberland County Public Library, Hood Memorial AME Zion Church and American Legion Post 525.
At least 1,000 bicycles are ready for the taking. They are neatly parked in one half of the warehouse, along with bicycle helmets and various donated items. In the other half of the warehouse are bicycles that have not been fully repaired. Mathis said they will go to a nonprofit organization, Bikes Across Borders.
The bicycle giveaway started in 1990 when Moses Mathis fixed a bicycle for a 10-year-old at Christmas in his Tiffany Pines garage. That one good deed launched the bicycle giveaway in the Tiffany Pines community. Years later, the project morphed into the Bicycle Man Community Outreach Project, and in 2011 the program expanded into six surrounding counties.
To become eligible for a bike, a parent or guardian applies at the child’s school. There, the school social worker will provide the necessary form and determine eligibility. There are no fees involved, however, any donation will gladly be accepted.
In 2013 a stroke took the life of Moses Mathis. His wife since then has honored his wishes to carry on the project.
“This time of year, he’s usually with me. I miss him,” Ann Mathis said.
Everette Lyles, the American Legion 525 commander, asked Mathis what it would take to establish a similar program. Mathis said she does not intend to leave the program to anyone else, but if the organization was serious about starting a similar program, “just do it.”
“You got to start somewhere,” she said, adding that she and her husband at first didn’t know how to run a nonprofit organization, but soon learned.
“You have to do it for the right reason,’’ she said. “It’s not easy. It took up a lot of our time and we had to put off things we wanted to do.
“It’s a full-time job. Most people just see the end result but don’t realize what it takes to get it done,” she said.
You also have to rely on volunteers.
“Beginning October, I didn’t think we’d have 500 bikes,” she said.
But after the first media interview and letting people know she was preparing for another season, volunteers and donations soared. “We had volunteers from Wake Forest and Raleigh,” she said.
But Mathis said she was ready to leave it all behind. “It’s time for me to move on. I think I’ve done enough,” she said.
Next week, Mathis will join her son in Georgia for Christmas. “Nothing will keep me from that,” she said.
“It’s been a good ride. I’ve enjoyed most of it,” she said.